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Film Review: Rear Window
In 1954, Alfred Hitchcock released Rear Window, based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story, “It Had to Be Murder.” Starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr, the film grossed $36.8 million at the box office.
Photographer L. B. Jeffries, who broke his leg during a dangerous assignment, is confined to his small New York City apartment and spies on his neighbors out of boredom. However, one neighbor, Lars Thorwald acts suspiciously, convincing Jeffries that he killed his wife, Anna.
Many consider Rear Window to be one of Hitchcock’s best films and it certainly deserves the praise it gets, using the entirety of the setting’s confined space to its full potential. Since Jeff can’t leave his apartment due to his broken leg, neither does the audience, restricting them to have the exact limited amount of observation that Jeff has. That helps to build the suspense. When his girlfriend, Lisa, starts snooping in Thorwald’s apartment, the viewer doesn’t see interspersed shots in him coming back, her snooping and Jeff cringing. Rather, Jeff sees it all and the viewer is left to feel as helpless as Jeff. Furthermore, when Thorwald finally confronts Jeff, the silence between the two is perfectly uncomfortable, just enough for the viewer to pay complete attention and not try to think how it’s going to end up.
The cinematography helps to give the same effect as being able to see everything Jeff sees. He’s watching the apartments, can’t see well enough with binoculars and picks up a telescopic lens and whenever he’s looking through the lens, the viewer is looking through the same lens, only able see what he sees. This helps to further the voyeuristic style that Hitchcock was known for.
Even then, non-sexual voyeurism is a main point of the film, maybe even a commentary on how voyeuristic the idea of television and film is, watching the lives of strangers and other unknown people. As Jeff sits and peeks into all the apartments, he sees them go throughout their daily lives and they aren’t just random inserts to make it look like Jeff isn’t only watching Thorwald. Each apartment tells its own little story. There’s a dancer prancing around in her underwear, and she brushes off the advances of every guy that approaches her, only to welcome a lover at the end of the film. There’s a couple who hangs out on their fire escape with a dog and the woman becomes enraged when the dog is killed in the latter half of the movie. They end up with a new one. There’s a woman bemoaning her lack of love and a frustrated composer who has no success. At one point, his playing stops her from committing suicide and the two end up together. Finally, there’s a newlywed couple who are insatiable at the beginning and end up fighting at the end.
The voyeurism is furthered in how the viewer never knows their names, only the nicknames that Jeff’s nurse calls them. It could also be, in addition to the voyeurism, that Hitchcock was pointing out how while there is a main story going on between Jeff and Thorwald, there are stories all around us and ours is just one of many that might interconnect at times, like how the entire neighborhood is brought out when the lady screams about her dog.
A fascinating aspect the film has is that the film's ending doesn’t completely end Jeff and Lisa’s story. Early on, Jeff says their lifestyles are too different and the relationship would never work out. In the end though, Lisa is wearing low end fashion and reading a novel but eventually she starts reading a fashion magazine. It show she hasn’t changed in the immediate context of the film, but since the films shows how lives and stories change, it could be that maybe the change for these two is slow and it will eventually.
Hitchcock also makes clever use of an empathetic environment. There’s a 90 degree heatwave at the beginning, but once the mystery is solved, Thorwald is caught and the other residents continue on with their stories, it breaks and the temperature becomes quite comfortable.
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Edgar Allan Poe Awards
- Best Motion Picture
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards
- Special Achievement Awards for the restoration
National Board of Review, USA Awards
- Best Actress (Grace Kelly)
National Film Preservation Board, USA
- National Film Registry
New York Film Critics Circle Awards
- Best Actress (Grace Kelly)
- Second Place - Best Director
Online Film & Television Association Awards
- OFTA Film Hall of Fame - Motion Picture
- Best Director
- Best Writing, Screenplay
- Best Cinematography
- Best Sound, Recording
BAFTA Film Awards
- Best Film from any Source
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA - Saturn Award
- Best DVD/Blu-Ray Collection (Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection)
Directors Guild of America, USA
- Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
DVD Exclusive Awards
- Best Original Retrpsoective Documentary (Rear Window: Ethics Remembering and Restoring a Hitchcock Classic)
- Outstanding Classic DVD (Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection)
Venice Film Festival
- Golden Lion
Writers Guild of America, USA Awards
- Best Written American Drama