In Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock melds together themes of post war anxiety with voyeurism and suspenseful crime. Rear Window tells the story of L.B. Jeffries, a photographer in New York City who, after getting hit by a car trying to get an epic action shot, has broken both of his legs and is bedridden for eight weeks. He fills his days spending time with his girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, and looking out into his neighbors’ windows with a pair of binoculars. At first he’s only “spying” to pass the time, but it unexpectedly turns dire when he suspects that one of his neighbors – a man named Lars Thorwald – has murdered his wife.
Rear Window is comprised of an all star cast. James Stewart, a staple of 40s and 50s silver screen and one of the most honored film stars in history, stars as L.B. Jeffries. Grace Kelly is perfectly cast as the stunning and whip smart Lisa Fremont. Thelma Ritter plays Stella, Jeffries’ at home nurse, friend, and confidant.
All day, Jeffries is people watching, or channel surfing in a sense. He peers into the windows of his neighbors, all vastly different people, and has affectionate nicknames for each. There’s “Ms. Lonelyhearts”, an older woman who is commonly seen setting the table for two, talking to her imaginary beau and bursting into tears. There’s “Miss Torso”, a fun loving young lady who spends each morning dancing around in her kitchen in her underwear with her windows wide open. “The Newlyweds” live upstairs. Their blinds are almost always closed. And “The Songwriter” pours his soul into his music, but is constantly frustrated. His lovely piano tunes make up the majority of the soundtrack. Hitchcock is trying to make the audience “diseased,” it’s meant for us to take a look at ourselves as well. Is movie-going all that innocent? Is having an interest in a stranger’s life – whether in film format or not – moral at all?
This movie tackles the theme of “post-war anxiety” head on. After World War II, people were stunned by the evil that other humans can cause. Their fear and distrust often informed their decisions and judgements. Jeffries has been watching his neighbors, specifically Thorwald, like a hawk, but is very quick to jump to murder once he suspects something is wrong. Lisa herself is a twist on the femme fatale trope, which is a characterization also born out of post war anxiety. Femme fatales are characterized as alluring, seductive women with evil intentions. When men came back from fighting in WWII, they were shocked to discover that women were working jobs outside of what was categorized as “women’s work.” In fact, women made up a large portion of the workforce in manufacturing companies and factories. Many men felt as though these women had “stolen their jobs” and thus, movies made during this time showed the discontentment that men felt by using characterizations like the femme fatale. A classic femme fatale is beautiful, with a wicked ulterior motive that often involves “stealing” from other male characters. Lisa fits the femme fatale bill physically. She’s gorgeous and cunning, but instead of “tricking” Jeffries, she assists him with his amateur turned serious sleuthing. She’s even more daring than him in the end.
The visual suspense that Hitchcock creates in this movie is magnificent. Stella, and Lisa gather sufficient evidence against Thorwald, they decide to take matters into their own hands. My dad introduced me to Rear Window when I was 13. I’ve watched the film many times since, but there’s one specific shot that will always make my whole body clench with anticipation and fear. Hitchock’s camera is simple and efficient. The opening shot of the film is a tour of Jeffries’ apartment. We are told everything we need to know about our hero, just by looking around his room. There’s no unnecessary expositional dialogue or narrative introductions. We are launched into the story immediately, and by watching the neighbors alongside Jeffries, we are cast as sleuths ourselves.
Rear Window will be shown at the Byrd Theatre on Monday July 22, 2019 at 7:15pm.