Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rear Window

Every now and again, it's good to give yourself a nice treat. Thankfully, I don't consider myself such a completionist that I've seen every movie one is supposed to have seen. I say thankfully because, once in a while, the availability of these well recognised classics allows me to take a break from sifting through new or recent releases, and spend a risk-free ninety minutes or so in the company of greatness.

Rear Window is the story of Jeff (James Stewart) confined to quarters in his two-bedroomed New York city apartment for six weeks while his broken leg heals. A plaster cast means he is effectively confined to a wheelchair, almost totally reliant on the regular visits of his nurse, Stella, and his girlfriend, who just happens to be Grace Kelly. Bear in mind, this is 1950's New York, so Jeff doesn't have the availability of the multitudinous time-wasting media currently at our disposal. To pass the time therefore, he takes to keeping an eye on the comings and goings of his neighbours in the apartments opposite his rear window. This being the middle of a citywide heatwave, shades are up and windows wide open, affording Jimmy Stewart, and of course us, a cinematically voyeuristic window into a number of lives, helping kill the hours until his plaster cast can be removed, and he can get back to work.

Warned by his regular female visitors that these hours spent watching the lives of others will only lead him down a dark path, Stewart is stubbornly unconvinced by their sage advice, and his hours spent watching eventually lead him to suspect something sinister is afoot in one of the apartments. But are his convictions the product of an idle mind and five weeks of cabin fever, or is his admittedly circumstantial and obervational evidence really pointing towards a horrible crime happening right under our noses? The skill with which Hitchcock unravels the answers to this question is what makes Rear Window so great to watch.

But there's a lot more going on in this one than a straight-forward murder mystery, or even an is-there-a-murder mystery such as this actually is. For some reason, Stewart is unconvinced that he will marry Grace Kelly, and his observations from his rear window give him a glimpse into the possible outcomes of his decision to get hitched: the newly-wed couple, the lonely widow, the down-trodden husband nagged by his wife, they are all visible to Stewart, and his occasional knowing smiles at each of their respective scnenarios seem to share little insights with the audience of his expectations of what marriage has to offer. (But why would he not want to marry Grace Kelly!?) As his nurse rather presciently points out to him, he would be better off just getting on with marrying someone he is interested in, rather than analysing his situation and applying long-winded psycho-analytical descriptions to his condition... In another sharp and thinly veiled slight to us as the audience, Stella also suggests that rather than simply watching people, he should get on with the business of living, and join in with them.

There is much to enjoy in Rear Window. I'm unsure whether Jimmy Stewart is caricaturing himself in the picture, but his familiar twang is endearing and ensures that even his most sarcastic remarks never seem too harsh. Grace Kelly's screen presence is remarkable, and in the rare moments of the movie where she is exposed to danger, you feel that you might not be quite as worried for her safety as if she was someone less charismatic, like say, Anne Heche.. The story builds slowly to an inevitably dramatic climax, and is never predictable. Hitchcock's regular and sweeping shots of the apartment block vista under Jimmy Stewart's watchful eyes are technically and visually stunning. The soundtrack adds to the ambience, and all the supporting players work well in their roles, particularly the ominous Raymond Burr (yep, Perry Mason) as Mr. Thorwald, and Thelma Ritter as Stella, Stewart's wily nurse.

If you haven't seen Rear Window, I heartily recommend it as one of those movies you really don't need to be in the mood for. If you have an attention span of thirty minutes or more, then I challenge you not to enjoy this film... and don't feel obliged to watch it just because it's a 'classic', rather you should reassure yourself with the knowldege you'll spend an enjoyable couple of hours taking it all in.

Verdict: Great cinema, just watch it.
Rating: 9/10

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