On Sunday evening, I watched ‘Rear Window’ for the first time. So captured was I by the movie that I watched it again the next day! I got so much more out of it during the second viewing and as I’ve been thinking about it over the last 24 hours, I’ve got even more out of it!
Everything about this movie is outstanding!
‘Rear Window’ is what I call an ‘up close and personal’ movie – it is almost theatre rather than a cinematic experience and it is that sense of theatre, my ‘closeness’ to the characters, which compounds the intensity. The action is all within a single courtyard, different apartments but all within the boundaries of the courtyard. When there is movement outside the courtyard, eg when the murder suspect, Lars Thorwald, leaves his apartment, we don’t see where he goes and, when he returns, we only see him when he enters the courtyard again.
Franz Waxman’s atmosphere-creating music score sets then scene.
Jeff – L.B. Jefferies – played so effortlessly by James Stewart, is a newspaper photographer, fearless, intrepid, and his heroism has landed him at home, in his apartment, at the height of a New York oppressive Summer, with a broken leg in a cast. His frustration is palpable and it is exacerbated when his editor phones him to tell him that an exciting assignment is coming his way but it is not to be – Jeff tells him that his cast isn’t coming off for another week. A little light comic relief is infused into the movie when we see Jeff’s pleasure at being able to scratch an itch under the cast thanks to a slim back scratcher which he can feed through to the itch (it also brings relief to a hard-to-reach itchy toe).
As if the broken leg isn’t enough, Jeff appears to be suffering with a virus, an infection of some sort which calls for the insurance nurse (nurse paid for by his newspaper’s insurance company), Stella, gloriously played by Thelma Ritter, to regularly check his temperature.
The rest of the scene, neighbourhood normality, and we see it thanks to the open windows of the apartments during the hot summer:
‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ (Judith Evelyn), nicknamed by Jeff who, clearly, has too much time on his hands. He is captivated by what he sees as the lives of his neighbours. Thinking about it now as I am, I guess he usually sees the world through a camera lens so looking at his surroundings, interpreting, subjectively, what he sees, trying to second guess what is going on, it’s not surprising that he comes to conclusions about his neighbours.
‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ seems to live all alone and she either dreams of having a boyfriend/husband/partner, certainly romance, or she has known such a relationship and has recently lost it. The pathos, the sadness, of the scene in which she sets a table for two in her apartment, a candlelit dinner, wine…her imaginary darling rings the bell, she pretends to usher him into the apartment, play acts, ‘he’ smelling her perfume, sitting at the table, the pouring of wine, glasses raised to their future….all on her own, and she collapses in tears…desperately sad!
Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy) is a magnificent attraction, a scantily clad, flamboyant dancer who wildly skims across the kitchen floor in full view of the mesmerised Jeff.
A nameless songwriter (Ross Bagdasarian) – I’m sure that he has a name, we just don’t know what it is – his highs and low, his good times, the parties, and his immense frustrations are all played out in full view of Jeff.
Frank Cady and Sara Berner play a married couple who live above the Thorwalds (more about them in a sec…) with their dog. The dog is a constantly throughout most of the movie and has a pivotal role! We don’t see much of the married couple but Sara Berner’s character bellows a speech towards the end of the movie (see later in this blog) and it is one of, if not THE, moments of sociological finger-wagging by Hitchcock and Cornell Woolrich (the author of the ‘short story’, ‘It Had To Be Murder’ in ‘Dime Detective’ on which the screenplay is based) and John Michael Hayes, who wrote the screenplay.
Rand Harper and Havis Davenport play a newly-married couple (which perhaps focuses Jeff’s mind on his own particular domestic/personal situation (more to follow…) and Jesslyn Fax plays a sculptor who wears a hearing aid.
Two other main characters:
Lars Thorwald, a travelling jewellery salesman, brilliantly played by Raymond Burr, is a non-speaking part. He lives with his unwell, almost bed-ridden, wife, Anna. They suffer a tempestuous relationship, much of which is played out in full view of Jeff, the marital stage easily seen though their open windows. Clearly, Thorwald is up to no good – his wife in the bedroom, he in the sitting room making a phone call, she walks in on him and an almighty row ensues. All is not well….
….and last (of the main characters) but not least, the astoundingly beautiful Lisa Carol Freemont, played by the angelic Grace Kelly. She is madly in love with Jeff, all she wants to do is marry him (which nurse Stella is strongly advising him to do) but he says that he is concerned that their life-styles and backgrounds (her, upper class, him working class) are too different and make marriage inadvisable – he particularly thinks it impractical as his is a life on the road, often in ‘Third World’ countries, whereas her usual milieu is glamour (she works in the ‘high fashion’ industry):
“She’s too perfect, she’s too talented, she’s too beautiful, she’s too sophisticated, she’s too everything but what I want.”
The scene is set – in essence, an extremely bored newspaper photographer, laid up, with a broken leg, in his apartment, too much time on his hands, tempted into the world of the voyeuristic nosey-Parker, wiling away the hours watching, from his apartment open rear window, his neighbours through their open windows, piecing together, in his own mind, the story of their lives…
Night, pitch black outside, a storm, a lady shreaks, “Don’t!”, glass smashes…sleep carries Jeff away but a clap of thunder awakens him and what he sees has his mind working overtime…
The very early hours of the morning, 2am, 3am, Jeff witnesses Lars Thorward, jewellery case in hand, leave his apartment, in the driving rain, and return a short while later – three times during the early hours of the morning! In and of itself, I don’t suppose Jeff could have made too much of it but added into the larcenous mix, the next morning, is Jeff’s noticing that Mrs. Thorwald, Anna, seems not to be in her apartment (odd considering her state of health) and, most sinister, Lars wrapping up a large knife and saw. Jeff is thinking ‘murder’.
Unfortunately, Jeff is alone in his suspicions, both Stella and Lisa casting doubt on his theories but when Lisa sees, as does Jeff, Lars with some rope, his using it to tie down the lid of a large trunk, he is no longer alone in his thoughts. Soon thereafter, a couple of guys from a removals company arrive and remove the trunk. At this point, nurse Stella has come onboard the good ship murder theory.
Frustratingly for the ‘believers’, an unconvinced policeman pal of Jeff’s, Det. Lt. Tom Doyle, is not onside – he uncovers some ‘facts’ which fly in the face of Jeff’s murder theory. Tom tells Jeff that Mrs. Thorwald was seen at the train station (to which Jeff says that perhaps a lady was seen – Lars’ mistress?? – but that it cannot have been Mrs. Thorwald) and that she is staying ‘upstate’ and took delivery of the trunk.
Are Jeff, Lisa and Stella getting ahead of themselves a bit, letting their imaginations run riot?
Well, the aforementioned married couple’s dog, continuously digging in a corner of the communal gardens, as if on the trail of something tempting (bones??), his being found dead, his neck broken (did he know too much?), that has the theorists salivating…
There’s more…all of the neighbours, when they hear the poor dog’s owner screaming hysterically, they come out onto their balconies or look out of their windows to see why there is such a commotion, all of the neighbours except for….yes, you guessed it, Lars Thorwald who is sitting in the blackness of his apartment, smoking a cigar (we see its solitary light in the darkness) – we can’t see him but we wonder if he is puffing away on a cigar, basking in the joy of what he feels is a job well done??
That’s more than enough for our amateur sleuths who have concluded that Mrs. Thorwald has been murdered and Mr. Thorwald is the killer.
Into action, they spring….Jeff scribbles a note accusing Thorwald of killing his wife and he asks the willing Lisa to pop over to Lars’ apartment to slip it under the door. He wants to watch Lars’ reaction when he reads it. Thorwald is shocked, of course. Jeff calls Thorwald, letting him know that he wrote the note but keeping his identity secret, and tells him to meet him at a bar, just a ruse to get him out of the apartment and out of the way which allows Lisa and Stella to dig the area of the communal garden to which the neighbours’ dog was so drawn. Jeff expects them to find something incriminating (so did I) but it’s a dead end (excuse the pun). Lisa moves the investigation/chase up a couple of gears by climbing up a ladder and sneaking into Thorwald’s apartment through the open window, inducing fear in Jeff but, doubtless also, surprise and respect for her courage (maybe, he probably thinks, she is his type of gal, afterall….).
Meanwhile, life goes on elsewhere and poor Miss Lonelyhearts, hers is spiralling out of control, depression punching her senseless to the point at which she reaches for a bottle pills, ready to end it all. Jeff grabs his phone and asks the operator to put him through to the police – it’s a race against time to stop her swallowing the pills. Cut to Thorwald’s apartment, speeding towards the dénouement, he returns to his apartment and finds Lisa snooping around. A tussle ensues, all witnessed by a pained, helpless and frantic Jeff…..phone rings, the operator has connected the apartment with the police, Jeff tells them to get round to Thorwald’s apartment without delay as a woman (Lisa) is being attacked (isn’t he concerned about Miss Lonelyhearts any more??!!). Police officers arrive, enter Thorwald’s apartment and they arrest Lisa for breaking into the apartment (she says nothing to the police about her suspicions, I guess because she and Jeff have still not found any incriminating evidence against him). Before the police take Lisa away (her life saved), she waves behind her back one of her fingers on which is Mrs. Thorwald’s wedding ring (which, she and Jeff assume, she’d have been wearing were she alive and holidaying ‘upstate’). Thorwald sees the ‘communication’ and finally realises that he is being watched. He looks out of his open window and sees Jeff looking over at him and all is revealed.
Jeff calls his policeman pal, Tom Doyle, who isn’t at home – he leaves a message with his wife to the effect “when he comes home, ask him to get round here without delay”. Jeff gives Stella some money, bail money, and off she dashed to the police station to get Lisa released.
Jeff’s phone rings, he picks up the receiver, expecting it to be Doyle – no voice on the other end of the line and the phone ‘goes dead’. Obviously, the call is from Thorwald who, now that he knows that Jeff is at home, makes a beeline for the apartment.
SUSPENSE, exacerbated by the fact, remember, that Jeff can hardly move, his leg still in a cast!!
Thump, thump, thump up the stairs outside Jeff’s apartment, an ominous sound. Enter Thorwald who menacingly walks towards the seated Jeff whose only ‘weapon’ to hand is his camera, replete with flashbulbs which, on each flash, causes temporary blindness and hinders the killer’s advancement. Thorwald gets to Jeff, a struggle ensues and Thorwald manages to drag Jeff to an open window, pushes him though to the extent that he, Jeff, is holding onto the window ledge for dear life – he falls but, fortunately, police offers manage to get over in time to cushion his landing (though he is left with another broken leg!). Thorwald confesses all to the police and the game is up.
Life returns to normal…Miss Lonelyhearts is in the songwriter’s apartment, the two of them chatting, Miss Torso’s boyfriend/lover/husband, a soldier (not quite of the physical stature we might expect) returns (a couple of enthusiastic lovebirds so I think we are meant to assume that they are ‘just’ lovers), the couple whose dog was killed now have a new dog and the newly married couple are now arguing….yes, life is back to normal in the neighbourhood.
Poor Jeff, both legs in casts now, he’s enjoying some well earned rest, fast asleep in his wheelchair and the gorgeous Lisa is relaxing, reading (or appearing to be reading) what is obviously not a book of her choosing, ‘Beyond The High Himalayas’. Final scene, she puts down the book and picks up a glamour magazine, everything back in place.
Great story but, of course, what makes it a special movie, one of the greatest ever produced, is the Hitchcock treatment – as we know, he didn’t win a ‘Best Director’ Oscar for this movie, a Nomination, yes, but not a win, no Best Director Oscars for any of his movies and judging by his Acceptance ‘Speech’ when picking up his Honorary Oscar – the Irving G. Schwartz Memorial Award – in 1968, he was, understandably, extremely miffed!! ‘Rear Window’ was Nominated in 4 categories, ‘Best Director’, ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ (John Michael Hayes), ‘Best Cinematography – Colour’ (Robert Burks) and ‘Best Sound Mixing’ (Loren L. Ryder) but not a single Oscar win: not just a travesty but that brings the Academy into disrepute and makes a mockery of the institution:
The construction of the (indoor) set, a ‘mock-up’ of a Greenwich Village courtyard, was a monumental task, brilliantly achieved by set designers Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan Johnson.
The lighting, I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, the sky throughout the movie, the light on the characters – no lighting effects are needed to highlight/emphasize Grace Kelly’s beauty but Robert Burks’ (Cinematography/Director of Photography) talent with the camera and lighting leaves us aghast.
The music score, by Franz Waxman, is inextricably part of the movie although Waxman’s input, crucial as it is, is limited, ‘just’ accompanying the opening and closing credits and he composed the tune ‘Lisa’ which, in the movie, is written by the songwriter/pianist (Ross Bagdasarian).
‘Lisa’ is one of the most beautiful pieces of ‘music from the movies’ that I have ever heard:
The rest of the soundtrack is sublime, Bing Crosby’s ‘To See You Is To Love You’, ‘Mona Lisa’, “That’s Amoré” and music from Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers amongst others.
….and the clothes…Edith Head, 35 Oscar Nominations, 8 wins (but not one for this movie, not even a Nomination??!!), she surpassed herself! The creations which adorn Grace Kelly are exquisite – Grace is breathtaking! Jewellery design by Joan Joseff, inspired:
I can’t get over the beauty of this dress, how superbly it complements the angelic Grace Kelly:
I can’t get this movie out of my mind – I’m not a student of Hitchcock, I don’t know what he set out to achieve….
to entertain? I’m sure that that was always one of his goals and, for me, in that respect, he succeeded.
Suspense? A ton of it! The intensity, events running too fast for the broken-legged Jeff, his loss of control, peaking when Lisa is being attacked by Thorwald and there’s nothing he can do to help except to hope that the police get there before he, Thorwald, kills her – add into the mix Jeff’s guilt – Lisa wouldn’t have been in the situation if Jeff hadn’t dragged her into his voyeuristic obsession. And the suspense, reaching a crescendo when Thorwald can be heard, slowly, heavily, thumping his way up the stairs towards Jeff’s apartment, Jeff clearly terrified…
An artistic creation? For sure.
Social comment? It’s there!!
– and notice, after that emotional ‘speech’, one of the partygoers:
“Come on, let’s go back in, it’s only a dog”,
clearly, not everyone took on board the poor lady’s admonishment of society!
On the subject of voyeurism:
Stella: “In the old days, they’d put your eyes out with a red hot poker…. What people ought to do is get outside and look in for a change….We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change…”
Jeff clearly has a voyeuristic obsession – he’s bored, it’s entertainment for him but the irony is that, with so much time on his hands, he’d do well to spend some of it taking stock of his own life (although, admittedly, his obsession does lead to the removal of a murderer from society).
Jeff sees, in the microcosm of life that is reflected in the courtyard, confirmation of his belief that marriage is not an institution into which he should dive:
Jeff’s Editor: It’s about time you got married, before you turn into a lonesome and bitter old man.
Jeff: Yeah, can’t you just see me, rushing home to a hot apartment to listen to the automatic laundry and the electric dishwasher and the garbage disposal and the nagging wife…
Jeff’s Editor: Jeff, wives don’t nag anymore. They discuss.
Jeff: Oh, is that so, is that so? Well, maybe in the high-rent district they discuss. In my neighborhood they still nag.
…..in the final scene, we see/hear, the then not-so-newly married couple bickering….
BUT ‘in reply’ to his misgivings towards the compatibility of the ‘perfect’, glamorous Lisa and the ‘living out of a suitcase’, globetrotting newspaper photographer, he need only look across the courtyard into Miss Torso’s apartment, to see the busty, wild dancer gobbling up the little soldier guy when he comes home. Moreover, watching Miss Lonelyhearts, desperate, suicidal, getting together, at the end of the movie, with the piano guy who lives alone, Jeff can see – IF he looks, IF he opens his eyes – that there can be happy endings and that ‘the right one’ might be, unbeknownst to him, the person right next to him!