There’s no Godzilla out your Rear Window (1954)
James Stewart sits around all day in a wheelchair to deliver lines in a film, which is a pretty good gig in my opinion, and there’s not even any Godzilla to worry about. I say that because there’s always some random bystander seeing a monster out their window. It’s the usual tripe you see in movies. There’s no tripe in this Hitchcock classic though, and it’s literally a James Stewart movie 24/7, so it’s his job to carry this movie. I have never watched this one all the way through, so it was my job to see if I could do it, and figure out how James Stewart got the best acting gig of all-time.
After seeing this movie, I’m not sure which Hitchcock movie I like best, this one or North by Northwest (1959). James Stewart is less uptight than Cary Grant and plays the average man caught up in what he sees, or what he thinks he sees. Stewart is not in a suit through the whole movie, he’s not evading criminals, and there’s nobody to shoot at, but there’s arguably more thrills in Rear Window, compared to any other Hitchcock movie. I’m not sure if I believe that, but there are certain points that stick out as tense. There’s no adventure though, which is where the comparison falls apart, but the story and the characters have more depth. Rear Window also has Raymond Burr and I love my Perry Mason, so that’s a definite plus.
The score is old-school. I prefer the North by Northwest score for its violins and moving pace, but it opens with an orchestral piece and continues with neighborhood sounds to build realism. You need something to listen to as the camera pans around the city, as if the audience joins in with James Stewart as a voyeur. That’s basically what this movie comes down to. It’s a study of voyeurism. James Stewart’s character Jeff can’t do much else with a broken leg, so I guess it’s not his fault.
It is strange, as Jeff sits there, seeing everyone but nobody ever sees him. Perhaps that is a theme, like isolation, meant to show his mental state or some crap like that. Jeff’s nurse sums the movie up pretty well when she tells him that he’s going to be seeing things he shouldn’t see if he keeps looking out the window. That’s about as good you’re going to get when it comes to foreshadowing of the obvious.
It’s actually not what you see, but what you don’t see in this movie that makes a difference. Jeff hears a scream, but he can’t see anything to tell him something is wrong. That scream turns into suspicion a little later on when he sees one of his neighbors come and go from his apartment with a strange suitcase. There is no dialogue. We wonder what he’s doing right along with Jeff, questioning where the man’s wife went to, and what happened to her. James Stewart plays it perfectly.
Raymond Burr plays the neighbor, who Jeff suspects has murdered his wife. However, his Detective friend tells him otherwise, so it’s back to snooping out the window, though I suspect he never believed his friend in the first place. He’s as nosy as ever. Meanwhile, Raymond Burr is the most suspicious man ever.
Jeff convinces his fiance of his suspicions and she joins in on the mystery. The fiance is played by Grace Kelly, the most high class woman ever. She plays to her part just right, because Lisa is just as high class and luxurious as Grace Kelly herself. She adds some interesting dialogue in between the scenes of voyeurism.
The funny thing about this movie is that it desperately tries to convince us that we are wrong about what we’ve seen. Jeff never really waivers in his beliefs though and thinks Raymond Burr is really a bad seed. He tugs Grace Kelly out of luxury and into the life of spying for him, trapsing around trying to confirm his suspicions. If he were Eddie Murray, the movie might be funny. A little dog turns up dead and it is the biggest red herring ever.
I’m not trying to put the movie down or anything, because it is well-acted and paced almost perfectly. It is a little over the top though, but works if you’re not too cynical. The hero is never wrong in this movie and he keeps on believing a murder has happened despite having no evidence, because that’s the kind of guy he is. Raymond Burr has disposed of all the evidence, but he blurts out his guilt, taking a page from his own television program, solving that problem for us. Beyond this film convenience, the movie is pretty good.
I think the ending is perhaps the best part. Jeff sends Lisa to Raymond Burr’s apartment on one of his errands of suspicion, but she’s caught when the big guy comes home unexpectently. Jeff can only watch as she struggles with Raymond Burr. The guy is stronger than he looks and this is the most tense part of the movie. Luckily, Jeff calls the police and Lisa is saved from any harm.
In the end, Jeff has two broken legs from struggling with Raymond Burr, but luckily, his new nurse is Grace Kelly, so I guess he has it good. Overall, this movie is a study in voyeurism, but it’s intention is to entertain us, which it does. It is not a police procedural and it is nowhere near a heavy drama. It does have tension though, especially in the middle section and at the end, so that gives the movie an element of seriousness. I think it’s well-made and is essential Hitchcock.