Rear Window Maestro

Jimmy Stewart made four films total with Hitchcock, Rear Window being the second.
Jimmy Stewart made four films total with Hitchcock, Rear Window being the second.
Jimmy Stewart, May 20, 1908 - July 2, 1997
Jimmy Stewart, May 20, 1908 - July 2, 1997

In the movie Rear Window, suspense virtuoso Alfred Hitchcock orchestrates beautiful tension into the seemingly prosaic, combining murder and uncertain love - both of which need to be proved - to create one of his most thrilling fright films. The camera moves gradually across the living room of a small, New York City apartment during a heat wave. The unease begins as we see Jimmy Stewart seated in a rather tormenting position with one leg propped up and bound in a full, plaster cast - beads of sweat dripping from his brow as a result of the intense, summer heat.

A thermostat, one of those items that only a bachelor would keep in his living room, comes into focus and inches up toward one-hundred degrees. The camera then continues panning around the disheveled room to reveal assorted treasures belonging to this thrill-seeking character, L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, photographer. His living room objet d’art include photographs of adventurous scenes, a broken camera – the corollary of Jefferies’ broken leg, a black telephone circa 1950’s, scattered travel-memorabilia and a provocative, if distorted, portrait of a woman – but the photograph is in negative, thus showing a ghostly figure within a sepia-tinged background. All of these clues are displayed before the light of a big, picture window which looks out on a back courtyard and the apartment windows of people living in the same brick and mortar, urban complex.


This was the only film that Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly made together.
This was the only film that Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly made together.


For Hitchcock, it is all in the camera-work. James Stewart was quite possibly the best actor for understanding Hitchcock’s motive. Stewart employed deftly-hewed facial expressions that seemed so natural, using his eyes to convey thoughts and emotions. In Rear Window these talents were showcased, as his character was planted, for the duration of the film, in a wheelchair.


Had this film been directed by almost anyone other than Hitchcock, the story would simply have been about a man with a cast on his leg sitting in a wheelchair in the small, dreary living room of his New York City apartment obsessively peering out the window, sometimes even with binoculars, spying on all of his neighbors. However, since the man with the broken leg is the iconic James Stewart whose familiar face jazzes up the screen, all voyeuristic implications can be rationalized to psychological-study or mere people-watching. Stewart and his esteemed presence dashes any hint of creepiness, or nearly so, and makes snooping justifiable.

In many ways this is a voyeur-film, and with his superior touch, Hitchcock magically portrays it as art, a fashion statement and a thrilling murder mystery. Captured in low light and thus furnishing a sepia-feel to the towering, brick topography of an implied urban setting, Paramount studios was the actual venue for the director’s brilliant stage-craft. At first glance, one is not sure whether this is really New York City or a well-wrought stage setting. Indeed, the uncertain verisimilitude of place contributes greatly to the artistry of the film. Is this a film or a play? The tentative answer provides an edgy mood to an already engaging tableau.


Never take your eyes off of Stewart's eyes!
Never take your eyes off of Stewart's eyes!
Hitchcock working with his two favorites.
Hitchcock working with his two favorites.

With its singularly subjective point of view, the action is seen through Jefferies’ eyes; he watches from his window the energetic, scantily clad, blond dancer, Miss Torso, as she swivels about, unaware of her watcher, to music which drifts across the courtyard. Another brilliant effect is the echo-chamber of sound caught within the piazza of the tall, brick apartment buildings. Voices heard but words not quite made clear - captivating music of almost familiar scores rendered tinny and mutated add eerie suspense. These background tunes were actually popular songs of the era by such artists as Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. They lend a distantly sweet yet pedestrian milieu.

Intermixed with the magnificent musical scores of Leonard Bernstein, the atmosphere shifts from prosaic to epic. The camera pans from Miss Torso’s ballerina-esque plies and leg-kicks to an adjacent apartment where a bridegroom steps over the threshold of his new apartment, bride in his arms and before kissing her draws the shade down upon Jefferies’ gaze. Jefferies watches with perfect response-expressions, and we the audience are privy to both the couple and the watcher. Now, the voyeuristic milieu creeps in and is gradually yet strongly felt.


It took painstaking ability in the restoration phase to preserve the luster of this wonderful close-up. The film must be seen to appreciate the excellent camera-work.
It took painstaking ability in the restoration phase to preserve the luster of this wonderful close-up. The film must be seen to appreciate the excellent camera-work.
Grace in the Edith Head "cloud" dress.
Grace in the Edith Head "cloud" dress.
Rear Window was the second of three films that Grace Kelly made with Hitchcock.
Rear Window was the second of three films that Grace Kelly made with Hitchcock.

Hitchcock uses panning and close-up camera angles to create this watchfulness in close proximity. Jefferies’ solitary occupation which, like a telescope, cannot be seen back into renders, very quickly, a psycho-sexual theme at close range. Jefferies, the watcher, is oddly not seen by any of the neighbors. Thus, the first one-third of the film entraps the audience in this voyeuristic web, with only glimmers of beauty in perhaps Stewart’s baby blue eyes or the fleeting glimpse of a woman’s dress swishing across the room beyond a window frame.

Enter Grace Kelly to finally glamourize the film. The lovely Lisa Freemont, Jefferies’ socialite, fashion-model girlfriend, breezes into the brown-hued apartment in an Edith Head gown that seems to float like a sun-filled, cumulous cloud and, interestingly, resembles a ballerina dress. Hitchcock once called Grace Kelly a “snow-covered volcano”, all fiery emotion underneath the blond pallor of diamonds or ice. The director most certainly conjured the image lovingly for it is rumored that he was in love with his favorite actress. Grace Kelly only made a hand-full of films, three of which were with Alfred Hitchcock, before she settled down to family life, marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco and thereby outdoing the regal image that her poise and beauty always conveyed. She portrays the perfect combination of elegant sang-froid, chic-smarts and feminine vulnerability to have her audience in the palm of her hand and thereby terrified when the heroine’s life becomes in danger.


Grace Kelly won an Oscar for Best Actress in The Country Girl, (1955).
Grace Kelly won an Oscar for Best Actress in The Country Girl, (1955).
Grace Kelly, Nov. 12, 1929 - Sept. 14, 1982
Grace Kelly, Nov. 12, 1929 - Sept. 14, 1982

We, the audience, are accustomed to Jimmy Stewart playing the farcical buccaneer who would forfeit love for adventure as in, It’s A Wonderful Life, or the polished publishing man as in, Bell, Book and Candle, but Jefferies appears ludicrous indeed to waver for an instant before the lovely and adoring Lisa. Yet, he is struggling to get at the core of things. The couples who live across the way, oblivious of the watcher’s gaze, mimic the conventions of love and marriage which Lisa so passionately desires and Jefferies so vehemently distrusts. This setting provides a microcosm for Jefferies’ visions of life beyond bachelorhood. The melodramas played-out before him conveniently feed into the adventurer’s most sordid and feared suspicions about marriage.

Meanwhile, as Jefferies and Lisa dance the proverbial dance of couples who are at a turning point in their courtship, a murder may have taken place in an apartment across the way. In keeping with the classic Hitchcockean trope, Jefferies must unravel the mystery and save his own face as well. Moreover, Jefferies has the daunting task of convincing his friends that a murder has taken place and that he is not just a peeping-Tom letting his imagination run wild as he convalesces in his wheelchair. And he needs to enlist his friends’ help in solving the alleged crime.


Hitchcock made one of his famed cameo appeances standing in the apartment of a composer across the way.
Hitchcock made one of his famed cameo appeances standing in the apartment of a composer across the way.


Argumentation ensues to prolong the suspense, at which point questions of ethics and themes of loneliness, voyeurism and morbid curiosity come into play:

“We’ve become a race of peeping-Toms. People ought to get outside and look in at themselves,” says Stella, a nurse, played by Thelma Ritter.

When Lisa would rather be making love than peering through windows, she argues rather dismally, “I’m no expert on rear window ethics,” to Jefferies just before the terror goes into full-gear.

The film was written by John Michael Hayes and inspired by Cornell Woolrich’s short story of 1942 which was loosely based on Life photographer Robert Capa. Filmed with a 35mm camera, Rear Window, (1954), received four academy awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography-Color and Best Sound Recording.

Additionally, writer, John Michael Hayes won the 1955 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture.



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Comments 18 comments

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi :)

Fascinating!

You describe this very well. It makes me want to watch it.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Trish:) Thanks so much! Those are the best words to hear ~ Let me know if you do like watching the film, too.


Ebower profile image

Ebower 5 years ago from Georgia

I love this movie and any of Alfred Hitchcock's movies actually. Did you know Shia Lebouf's 'Disturbia' was based off of this film? Thanks for sharing! I voted this hub up and awesome!


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, Erin! I am also a great fan of Hitchcock's. I have not seen Disturbia - thanks for reminding me of it. It will be interesting to see a remake - I don't believe that very many directors have attempted it!


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England

A very informative hub tracy, thanks. Rear Window is one of Hitchcock's greatest films and a big favourite of mine.

The first time I saw it was on a video rental back in the 80's, I remember as soon as it finished I rewound the tape and watched it again... aaah memories of rewinding thousands of video tapes.. gaah! :)

Grace Kelly really was gorgeous. I don't blame Hitch for being smitten with her.

Voted Up and Awesome.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thank you, Steve! That is interesting ~ so much has changed in a very short amount of time, relatively. I actually did not know Rear Window was that good until viewing it this last time - I had only seen trailers before. The film really is one of Hitchcock's best. Thanks for the vote of confidence! :)


Catherine 5 years ago

A very good article ! She was lovely , wasn't she?


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, Catherine, for stopping by:) Yes, Grace Kelly was a lovely person. I've enjoyed learning more about her!


_thats_a_bingo profile image

_thats_a_bingo 5 years ago

A very very very well-written review! I could most definitely learn a thing or two from you!


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks very much and welcome to HubPages!


Marcia Austin-Zacharias 5 years ago

Tracy,

This is a beautifully written, excellent review. I haven't seen "Rear Window" in decades and remember how uncomfortable I was watching Stewart watching his neighbors. Hitchcock's movies always make me uncomfortable for varying reasons. He was a master at creating films that force the viewer to question him/herself and one's comfort zone. Thank you so much for this. We will watch this again very soon ~ me with my pillow over my tummy for protection...

your loving Mom!


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thank you, Mom. Well put ~ Hitchcock pushes the envelope when it comes to our zones of comfort. I always feel a little squeamish at some point in his films. And I will probably never watch "Psycho" again. But Grace Kelly saves "Rear Window" from total creepiness and makes it chic-worthy!

Thank you very much for reading and commenting, my biggest fan!:)


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

Most interesting write-up. "Rear Window" is among my favorite movies and also a favorite Hitchcock one, among many. I saw it on its first rounds in 1954, in fact. One of my all-time favorites was one of Hitch's firsts: "Rebecca" from 1940. I was very young but had seen GWTW earlier so was allowed to see "Rebecca " when it came to our little town. I had only a vague remembrance of it, but it haunted me. I searched and searched for its DVD without success, but my grandkids found it for me, much to my surprise and delight.

Your writing style is excellent! Stylish and beautifully organized. I am looking at your list of hubs and see several I'll add to my 'must-read' list!


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thank you , Nellieanna! Your lovely words mean so much to me. "Rear Window" is one of my favorites, too. I do not recall ever having seen "Rebecca" but since I am a Grace Kelly fan, "To Catch A Thief" is another fave! In fact I may write about that one, too.

I do appreciate your review of my review! And thanks for sharing your beautiful memories and thoughts. Also, I like your current avi:)


Davidwork 4 years ago

Tracykarl,

I've only joined HubPages recently. I've just come across this particular hub. I'm a big GK fan, I think she was the most beautiful, elegant and radiant actress in cinema history, and I've done my own tribute hub to her.

I've done a lengthy review of Rear Window in my hub, but your review of Rear Window is very detailed and eloquent; it's not my favourite film of all time, but it has always been my favourite GK film, the best of what I call her "golden trio" of Hitchcock films.

I've visited Monaco, some of the locations on the French Riviera where Grace shot To Catch A Thief, her old house in Philadelphia, and the AADA where she studied acting in New York. My ultimate ambition is to visit the Paramount studio where she shot Rear Window, though of course, the set won't be there anymore.

I don't know if you've ever seen The Country Girl, but she gives quite a strong performance in that one.

I vote your hub up!


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 4 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thank you, David! You obviously have a great appreciation for Grace Kelly and Hitchcock. They certainly worked well together! How lucky for you to have visited Monaco and all of the meaningful locations. I will hop over and read your Rear Window hub. Thanks for the vote up!:)


The Jet profile image

The Jet 4 years ago from The Bay

I love Rear Window. It was suspenseful and evoking on so many levels. Great hub! Excellent writing. Are you looking forward to the "Hitchcock" film, coming out on Nov. 23rd?


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 4 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thank you!! I love Rear Window, too. Grace Kelly really makes the film for me, I have to admit. Psycho, however, isn't a fave - so I'm not running out to see the new movie, just yet. Have you seen it?

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