This is my choice for Alfred Hitchcock’s finest film, even better than Psycho, even better than Shadow of a Doubt. I recall seeing a trailer (we called them “previews” back then) for Rear Window when it was just coming out. I believe it featured Hitchcock himself, and he was showing us around his huge indoor set. But I didn’t see the film itself at the time. Then it vanished into the vaults, along with three other films, and when video came along some sort of contractual dispute kept those films off the market. Then they went into limited theatrical release to coincide with the video appearances. I saw them all on video (rediscovering The Trouble With Harry, which I did see when it was new), and then Lee and I and her daughter Annie went to see Rear Window on the big screen in a little revival theater called the Roseway out on Sandy Boulevard in Portland. I was knocked out.
I’m not a victim of acrophobia, so even the famous dolly/zoom shots in Vertigo didn’t affect me with any real feeling for Scotty Ferguson’s affliction. I’m not very claustrophobic, either, but Jeff Jeffries dilemma being cooped up in that apartment that he couldn’t leave affected me a lot. The camera never leaves the apartment. (Okay, there’s one brief shot from outside at the very end, when Jeffries himself is dangling from his windowsill.) After a while I can feel the walls closing in.
Roger Ebert pointed out that there is something very attractive about voyeurism for most people. I’m one of them. I have never window-peeped, but it is fascinating to do it looking over someone’s shoulder, see the lives unfolding all around while yours is on hold. Hitchcock draws us in so gradually, at first we think Jeffries is just paranoid. Then the suspense builds and builds, until it’s hair-raising.
There are really three stars here, in addition to great supporting performances by Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. Grace Kelly wasn’t much of an actress, but I think this is her best role. Jimmy Stewart was a great, if often underrated, actor, and this is one of his best performances. But the third star was that amazing set, and the armies of ADs and grips and gaffers it must have taken to make it all work seamlessly. For the length of the film the place really comes to vibrant life. We hear just snatches of conversations, and often no words at all, as with poor Miss Lonelyhearts in her life of quiet desperation. There is no dramatic musical score, but there is music almost all the time, coming from one apartment or another. A gruesome crime is committed, and we see none of it, not a drop of blood. Yet one of the most sinister scenes I can ever recall seeing is the darkened windows of Lars Thorwald’s apartment, and then the brief flare of his cigarette as he draws on it, a monster sitting alone there in the gloom.