Alfred Hitchcock will forever be the king of suspense. He took such a command of the screen and captivated everyone who watched that no one since has ever been able to come close to his genius. His films are in a league of their own: masterpieces that many will continue to see and laud, especially since most of his films get better with age (Psycho, Vertigo). Rear Window may be the most ingenious of his films, however.
L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies is a photographer with a broken leg confined in his New York apartment. He spends his days looking at his neighbors from outside of his rear window. He has a girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, who s always pestering him about getting married. And one night, Jeff thinks he sees one of his neighbors kill his bedridden wife.
The plot and setup is criminally simple: it takes place in Jeff’s apartment. Anything outside that apartment that we see is through the window. That should be very limiting in how the story is told. Well, it isn’t. The film gives us the information that we need and nothing more. This is helped by the fact that James “The Most Likable Actor Who Ever Lived And No One Can Ever Say Otherwise” Stewart and Grace Kelly are our leading couple. As Jeff, Jimmy conveys the paranoia and unrest of someone with a broken leg, while Grace Kelly pulls off Lisa as caring, but very much the socialite (her first scene shows that best).
And yet the nurse, Stella, steals the scenes she appears in. In the film’s opening scene, she is the perfect counterbalance to Jeff’s restlessness and paranoia (Stella: “We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. Yes sir. How’s that for a bit of homespun philosophy?” Jeff: “Readers Digest, April 1939.” Stella: “Well, I only quote from the best.”) And even the neighbor that Jeff believes is the killer is terrifying.
This film is suspense in it’s purest form. Hitchcock put it famously himself: “Action is a bomb going off. Suspense is a bomb not going off even though we know it’s there.” The film is just waiting until that bomb goes off. But when it does, it is one of the best ones Hitchcock has ever made. It seems like the type of film that just continues to improve as the years go on and that is the best legacy the master of suspense could hope for.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr