Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock

James Stewart plays Jeff Jeffries a freelance writer who has been injured in a car race and has to rest in his flat for six weeks with a broken leg in the middle of a heat wave.  His girlfriend Lisa Fremont is played by Grace Kelly a socialite who would love to make their relationship permanent.  Almost the entire film is seen through the eyes of Jeffries as through frustration and boredom he begins to watch his neighbours and concludes that a murder has been committed.

This film is a timeless classic and one I have enjoyed watching a few times - but never in the role of analyst!  The beauty of the story is the time that it takes to set the scene, long pans of the set take in every detail of the courtyard and the residents behind their windows.  We are teased into being interested in the lives of the neighbours with glimpses into their private lives as the heat wave causes all the neighbours to leave their blinds and windows open.  Hitchcock allows us to be both prudish about Jeffries spying and voyeuristic in our eagerness to find out more, the movie taps into our secret desires to spy and gossip.  The sound in the movie comes from the everyday noises that are made such as arguements, piano playing, records playing and conversations these all serve to immerse the viewer into the world outside the window. 
The film makes great use of the Male Gaze, we see only the subjects that Jeffries is interested in and his reactions to them.  He first views them dispassionately almost as specimins in a jar, giving each a label and diagnosis, the attitude is arrogant and detached.  He enjoys the power of seeing without being seen.  This attitude is reflected in his relationship with Lisa as he tries to dispassionately analyse the reasons why their relationship must end.  Initially she is often seen flouncing in a wonderful dress, pure eye candy, a person with no substance who can be dismissed and forgotten, it is only as she is also drawn into the conspiracy that her personality, reasoning and bravery are fleshed out.
As the film continues Jeffries becomes less detached, as his interest in their daily activities grows he begins to grow suspicious when the invalid wife of the travelling salesman disappears and he is seen taking large cases on trips late at night and cleaning a large knife and a handsaw.  As the audience you are not sure at this point if the heat and inactivity of his situation have caused him to become paranoid and indeed this view is shared initially by both his nurse and his friend Tom Doyle a detective whom Jeffries asks to check his suspicions, this is reinforced by Doyle finding nothing amiss.
Soon after, a neighbor's dog is found by a woman dead from a broken neck, her screams draw everyone to their windows to see what has happened, all except for Thorwald.  This convinces Jeffries that he is guilty and has killed the dog because it was digging up evidence.  Having exhausted his friend the detective's patience Jeff asks Lisa to help him discover the truth.  
He puts her in increasing danger, first to slip an accusatory note under Thorwald's door so Jeff can watch his reaction when he reads it. Then, digging up the flowers to find out why the dog was killed and finally breaking into Thorwalds flat.  It is almost like they are playing a game of dare, Jeff acting as though it was a murder mystery and not real life and Lisa not quite believing it is real for different reasons because she thinks Jeff is paranoid.  It is only when Thorwald returns and grabs Lisa; Jeff calls the police who arrive in time to save her; that he seems aware of how much she means to him. 
The film reaches a crescendo when with the Police present at Thorwalds flat, Jeff sees Lisa with her hands behind her back, wiggling her finger with Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring on it. The wedding ring means that she is definately dead and puts all thoughts of paranoid delusions out of the audiences mind.  Thorwald seeing this, realizes that she is signaling to someone, and finally notices Jeff across the courtyard.
Jeff phones Doyle, now convinced that Thorwald is guilty of something, and Stella heads for the police station to post bail for Lisa, leaving Jeff alone.
He soon realizes that Thorwald is coming to his apartment and with this realisation comes the fact that he cannot escape due to his broken leg. When Thorwald enters the apartment and approaches him, Jeff repeatedly sets off his camera flashbulbs, temporarily blinding Thorwald. Thorwald grabs Jeff and pushes him toward the open window as Jeff yells for help. Jeff falls to the ground just as some police officers enter the apartment and others run to catch him. Thorwald confesses the murder of his wife and the police arrest him.
This is a clever, suspense building, incredibly detailed film that keeps you thinking until the final twist unravels. 

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