Rear Window: Hitchcock's Masterpieces Series

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Paramount

One of Hitchcock's greatest films, "Rear Window" is a unique work in the canon of the director and in Hollywood's history, one that mixes effectively different genres and smoothly navigates from tone to tone. The movie is funny and suspenseful, humorous and touching, technically brilliant and morally profound. 
 
Co-starring the brilliant Jimmy Stewart and the luminous Grace Kelly, the film is extremely well acted by an ensemble of character actors, such as Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, and Wendell orey.
 
Which explains why "Rear Window" is every bit worthy of the attentive scrutiny it has continued to receive from film critics and scholars over the past half a century.  Indeed, with the notable exception of "Psycho" and "Vertigo," more has been written about "Rear Window" than any other Hitchcock film–and for god reasons. Fifty-six after it was made, the movie continues to intrigue scholars and spectators alike.
 
One of Hitchcock's best and most commercial pictures, "Rear Window," his 40th feature (out of an oeuvre of 53 features), was released on August 5, 1954, and quickly became the ninth top-grossing film, with $5.7 million in domestic rentals. One of the film's original ad campaigns stated: "If you do not experience delicious terror when you see 'Rear Window,' then punch yourself–you are most probably dead." 
 
"Rear Window" was nominated for four Academy Awards: Director to Hitchcock, Screenplay to John Michael Hayes, Color Cinematography to Robert Burks, and Sound Recording to Loren L. Ryder. Surprisingly, the film itself was not nominated, though even if it did, it would have lost since the Oscars in 1954 were dominated by Kazan's "On the Waterfront," which won Best Picture, Director, Actor for Brando, Supporting Actress for Eva Marie Saint, Screenplay, and others.
Burks lost the Cinematography Oscar undeservedly to Milton Krasner's work on "Three Coins in the Fountain," a CinemaScope travelogue set in Rome, which in many ways represented the opposite from "Rear Window," a film famously known for its insular, claustrophobic setting. 
Ryder, who captured impressively the sounds and noises of an urban inner courtyard in New York, lost to Leslie I. Carey for "The Glenn Miller Story," which coincidentally or nor also starred the great Jimmy Stewart.
More shocking was the loss of Michael Hayes's superb screenplay, an adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's short story, "It Had to Be Murder," who was inexplicably defeated by George Seaton's pedestrian script for "The Country Girl," which won Grace Kelly her first and only Best Actress Oscar. Grace Kelly should have received the Oscar for "Rear Window," instead of for her decent (but no more) performance in Seaton's drab backstage melodrama, in which she appeared dowdy and deglamorized, which always impresses Academy voters when it comes to beautiful stars. (Liz Taylor won an Oscar for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," in which she played a character much older and less attractive than herself.)
"Rear Window" was the first collaboration of Hayes and Hitchcock, who would also work together on "To Catch a Thief," "The Trouble With Harry," and the 1956 "The Man Who Knew Too Much," Hitchcock's remake of his 1934 British film. Hayes' witty, multi-layered screenplay contains elements of humor and suspense in equal measure. It emphasizes two levels of voyeurism. Jeffries's voyeurism as well as our voyeurism, sharing and enjoying Jeffries' voyeurism, which render a number of contradictory responses, including a significant amount of pleasure.
 
The protagonist of "Rear Window" is a middle-aged photographer named L.B. Jeffries (played splendidly by Jimmy Stewart), who is confined to a wheelchair. At first, Jeffries amuses himself by using a telescope to spy on the tenants of a Greenwich Village apartment building. However, gradually he begins to suspect that a nasty and brutal murder had been committed by his neighbor, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr, before he became TV star).
 
Jeffries is, as Richard Combs has noted, is a voyeuristic hero, who lacks the legitimate power, or real interest, in interfering in other people's lives, except in extreme threatening situations. Combining certain roles of both a movie director and a movie spectator, he watches people who he dominates by his will but who remain beyond his control. 
 
What he sees is a portrait of 1950s mass society in microcosm, a product of extreme, selfish individualism, based on a tacit Hobbes-like agreement to let each other alone, with freedom defined as the absence of community. Indeed, most of the people watched turn out to be lonely, bored, shallow, unsuccessful, alcoholic, suicidal and murderous. The awful truth of what we had become behind the curtains.
 
The theme of complacency comes out in the film in the form of an individual indifference to the fate of everything else. Most of the characters are neurotic, self-absorbed, isolated, and engaged in one way or another in desperate attempts to escape their social and psychological entrapment. The building represents an aggregate of individuals, residing in sort of private hells (sort of prison cells), a society held together by the flimsiest consensus.
 
The French critic Jean Douchet has brilliantly analyzed "Rear Window" as a meta-cinematic commentary. The flats across the courtyard are sort of cinema screen on which Jeffries projects his secret fears and desires.   His inspecting of his neighbors' lives in the dark is the very principle of cinematic spectacle, serving as superb commentary on the act of watching films. As spectators, we identify with the chair-bound, voyeuristic protagonist, and in the process we find ourselves in complicity with his guilty desires. 
 
"Rear Window" represents Hitchcock's most consistent and uncompromising attempt to imprison the viewers within a limited space, defined by a single consciousness. There were also experiments of space and viewership manipulation in "Lifeboat," mostly set on a single boat, and "Rope," vastly limited to the interiors of a single apartment, but nothing as coherent as profound as in "Rear Window."
 
Hitchcock identifies the camera as a medium for snooping and spying on Jeffrey's neightbors, as well as a too for tracking down evil, a murderous husband.  Stewart's Jeffries personifies Marshall Mcluhan's theory that, under the conditions of modern life, we are all (or capable of being) snoops.
 
Hitchcock created an insular world in the film: Nearly all the shots originate from Jeffries' point of view. The only exceptions are a couple of shots near the end of the film, along with the discovery of the dead dog. The music, speech, and other sounds come from within the film's world—what's known in film studies as diegetic, or actual sound.
 
Moreover, directing the film from Jeffries' apartment, Hitchcock communicated with the actors in their respective flats by radioing his instructions to them through their flesh tone earpieces.

The beauty, meaning, and subtlety of “Rear Window” grow considerably with each successive viewing: One of Hitchcock’s achievements here is the success with which he incorporates the darker tones and psychological intensity of his later works (“Vertigo,” “Psycho”) into an enjoyable, seemingly mainstream picture, which is fondly remembered by viewers and critics alike.

Oscar Context

Burks lost to Milton Krasner's work on "Three Coins in the Fountain," a CinemaScope travelogue (the movie was set in Rome) that in strategy is exactly the opposite from the insular and claustrophobic "Rear Window." Ryder, who captured impressively the sounds and noises of an urban inner courtyard, lost to Leslie I. Carey for "The Glenn Miller Story," which also starred Jimmy Stewart.

The one shocking loss was John Michael Hayes's superb screenplay, an adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's short story, "It Had to Be Murder," who was inexplicably defeated by George Seaton's pedestrian script for "The Country Girl."

That movie won Grace Kelly her first and only Best Actress Oscar. Kelly might have received a nomination for "Rear Window," were it not for her performance in the Seaton-directed melodrama, in which she appeared dowdy and deglamorized, the kind of thing that tends to impress Academy voters when it comes to beautiful stars.

As is well-known, Hitchcock had never won a legit, competitive Oscar.

Cast
 
L. B. Jeffries (James Stewart)
Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly)
Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey)
Stella (Thelma Ritter)
Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr)
Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn)
Composer (Ross Bagdasarian)
Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy)
Sculptress (Jesslyn Fax)
Mrs. Thorwald (Irene Winston
 
Credits
 
Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes, from the novel by Cornell Woolrich
Camera: Robert Burks
Technicolor Consultant: Richard Mueller
Set Design: Hal Pereira, Joseph Macmillan Johnson, Sam Comer, and Ray Mayer
Music: Franz Waxman
Editor: George Tomasini
Costumes: Edith Head
F/X: John P. Fulton
Assistant director: Herbert Coleman