“Hmm… must have splattered a lot”.
Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting The Alfred Hitchcockblogathon. A fine idea, celebrating the life and works of the “Master of Suspense”. My contribution comes from his 1954 masterpiece “Rear Window” starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
In one pan around his small apartment, and without a word of dialogue required, Hitchcock deftly fills in all the back-story you need: Stewart plays ace photo-journalist L.B. Jefferies, laid up from jetting the world to worn-torn regions by a broken leg in a full-cast with only his courtyard view to entertain him. In sweltering summer temperatures all the apartments are open to the elements, so he can be well entertained by the menagerie before him: “Miss Torso”, the scantily-clad and frequently showering ballerina; a sculptress with an eye towards Henry Moore; a struggling composer (who has his clock wound by someone very familiar!); a newly-wedded bride threatening to wear out the groom; a salesman and his bed-ridden wife; a dog-loving and balcony-sleeping couple; and “Miss Lonelyhearts” – a hard-drinking spinster forced to create imaginary male dinner-guests.
Stewart plays his usual ‘Mr Ordinary’ watching perfectly ordinary goings on in a perfectly ordinary apartment block.
Or not. Jefferies is drawn to some odd-events in the apartment of the salesman (Raymond Burr, still 13 years before his career-defining role in TV’s “Ironside”). His rampant suspicions infect not only his cranky middle-aged physiotherapist Stella (Thelma Ritter) but also his perfect (“too perfect”) girlfriend, the fashion expert Lisa (Grace Kelly). Of course his police friend Doyle (Wendell Corey) is having none of it… there is no evidence of any crime being committed. And the “murdered” wife has been seen being put on a train by her husband, and is sending him letters from the countryside.
Is Jefferies just going stir-crazy? Or is there really something to it?
The set for this film is masterly. Although depicting a genuine location in New York’s Greenwich village the huge set was constructed on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, and you can just imagine the army of carpenters and artists building the multi-layered structure.
It’s one of the stars of the film, allowing for a wealth of detail to be populated: in the apartments; in the street behind; even in the cafe over the other side of the street. And it’s this detail that really makes what could be a highly static film come alive. There are a half dozen films-within-the-film going on at once, with Stewart’s character – and you as the fellow-voyeur – having a multi-pass to watch them all simultaneously.
And watch he does. As what could be perceived as a seriously pervy character – something he is called out on by Stella – Jeffries gets to see an eyeful in particular of the shapely and scantily-clad ballerina (Georgine Darcy, agent-less and only paid $350 for the role!). These scenes must have been deemed quite risque for the year of release.
Where the film rather falters is in the bickering romance between Stewart and Kelly. As a hot-blooded man, I will declare that even today Kelly’s first dream-like appearance (with Vaseline lightly coating the lens) is breathtaking. She’s just the ‘girl-next-door’: if you live next to a palace that is! And yet (with Kelly 21 years Stewart’s junior) she’s just “too perfect” for L.B. , who feels (against her protestations) that she’s ‘too girly’ to hack the life of a war photographer on the road. The mysogeny, common for the day, is gasp-making: “If a girl’s pretty enough, she just has to ‘be'” intones Stewart, to no howls of protest or throwing of saucepans! In fact Kelly is greatly encouraged: “Preview of coming attractions” purrs Kelly, flaunting what she has around the apartment in a negligee.
These scenes though are rather overlong and somewhat get in the way of the murder mystery plot-line. Things really start to warm up when a death occurs, to piercing screams in the night: “Which one of you did it?” shouts a woman to the neighbourhood, as everything – momentarily – stops. “WHICH ONE OF YOU DID IT?”. Given your emotional involvement in the ongoing voyeurism, it’s hard as a viewer not to feel discomforted…. (“well, it wasn’t me”…. shifts uneasily in the seat).
From then on, Hitchcock proceeds to pile on suspenseful jolt after jolt, with first Lisa and then L.B. placed in harms way. While the perpetrator may seem clueless and incompetent, as most murderers of passion probably are, the denouement is satisfying, with a great trial use of green-screen ‘falling’ that would be perfected by Hitchcock for “Vertigo” four years later.
What’s curious for such as classic is that there are a number of fluffed lines in the piece: with two notable ones by Stewart and Kelly. Hitchcock was the master of long and uninterrupted takes, but did he not believe in re-shooting scenes when such errors occurred? Most odd.
Although tighter and more claustrophobic that some of his better known films, this is a firm favourite of mine. If you’ve never seen it, its well worth you checking out.
Fad Rating: FFFFf.