Sunday, September 20, 2015

AFI Top 100: #48 "Rear Window"

James Stewart in Rear Window (1954)

We've reached the second of four iconic Hitchcock movies that grace the AFI Top 100 list, and personally, I think one of the best. The claustrophobic, intimate thriller, Rear Window, coming in at #48. A simple idea, it's been tweaked and redone in modern film and television for decades; the idea of a person who sees something curious going on with a neighbor, which must mean something sinister is afoot.

L.B. 'Jeff' Jefferies (James Stewart) is a National Geographic photographer, bound to a wheelchair after shattering his leg on the job. Now stuck day in and day out inside is tiny rear-facing apartment, he's got nothing to do with this time but sit by the window and watch the neighbors. Visited daily by his fiery nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), and his fashion model girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly), his boredom begins to overwhelm him until one night, he begins to suspect that a Salesman living across the courtyard has killed his wife. Despite this likely being all in his head, Jeff becomes convinced he's righthe just has to prove it.

The set, consisting of a dozen distinct apartments and courtyards, is a character in and of itself. Each of the residents are largely strangers to Jeff, and to each other, but their lives could not be more open to one another. Jeff even has names for many of them, like the dancer "Miss Torso" or the single older woman "Ms Lonelyhearts"... a witness to their daily lives, his immobility and boredom leading him to create stories for who they must be. It's fascinating to meet them all through his eyes, and see their personalities come out from a distance. Hitchcock settles the camera occasionally on each home, and the hustle an bustle outside is a fascinating addition to the story. It also highlights just how immobile Jeff really is.

Here, there are no complicated plot twists or unexpected revelations. Everything builds to exactly what the film sets up from the start, and nothing more. The mystery and thrills comes from not knowing whether your assumptions are right or wrong, and in that, the experience of watching Rear Window is entirely unique. Knowing the 'who' but not the 'why.' Knowing the 'what' but not the 'how.' At least, thinking you know. For every moment of certainty and every moment of doubt, you're right there with Jeff. It's an added bonus that he knows he's not alone with Lisa and Stella by his side.

My friend Steven, who watched this movie for the first time when we screened it for this countdown, noted something I didn't disagree with. Jeff doesn't evolve very much from the selfish person he is at the start of the movie. His expectations for Lisa as the woman in his life never changehe doesn't accept her for who he thinks she is, but instead realizes he never knew her at all. Turns out, she a pretty tough and resourceful girl! Glad she had to put her life in danger for you to appreciate her, Jeff. She'd have never asked that of you, because she loved you no matter what. Not to mention, he must be an insane person for every wanting to break up with someone as perfect as Grace Kelly. She's quite literally perfection.

Granted, both of them have high hopes for the other, and it certainly isn't the focal point of the story. Character faults aside, the dynamic between them is ideal for the progression of the story, and the most thrilling moments come from Lisa rolling her sleeves up and jumping into harm's way, all because her man can't do it himself. Jeff's inability to move creates just the right amount of anxiety in the film, and not only when he's in danger. Even the moments Hitchcock shows of Jeff being overwhelmed by heat, or needing to move from the wheelchair to the bed... everything accentuates that discomfort for the audience.

This is the Hitchcock film I've seen the most. More than Psycho, more than my other favorites, Rebecca and Spellbound. It is by far the easiest of his film's to watch. It's succinct, thrilling, and a riotously good time. If you need an introduction to Alfred Hitchcock, this is a marvelous place to start.

Rating: ★★★★½ / 5 stars

[Watch the Trailer] | [Read More AFI Top 100 Reviews] | [images © Paramount Pictures]

Check back next time for #48 on the list, A Streetcar Named Desire — or better yet, have your own viewing party and watch along with us!

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