Hands up who’s been a bit of a voyeur at some point in their life? Have you ever watched a quarrelling couple, gawked at someone doing something which was none of your business, cheekily stared as a loving couple chew off each other's faces? Well, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, LB Jeffries definitely is one.
A renowned photographer, he suffers from a broken leg, and, anchored to his wheelchair in his apartment, takes to watching his neighbours across the street. There’s the opera singer, the passionate couple, and… the murderer. Jeffries is convinced that he has witnessed a murder, but, no matter how much he tells them, his girlfriend (Grace Kelly, bungtastic) and his minder (Thelma Ritter, on excellent form) think it’s just a product of boredom and an over imaginative imagination.
As ever, James Stewart is fantastic. He’s done the average Joe schmuck, he’s done the cowboy with the wounded pride and he’s done the intense defence lawyer. In Rear Window, he’s given a fair few comedic lines, which Stewart underplays wryly, a feat even more commendable if you consider that, rooted to a chair, he doesn’t get to use his physical presence like he has in other films. His character – of the voyeur – parallels us in that we, like him, are watching what is essentially none of our business.
Rear Window has such a brilliant premise that it has been imitated many a time in various art forms - the key is its simplicity. In one episode of The Simpsons, Bart, nursing a bruised leg, thinks he has witnessed Flanders being a murderer, leading to some very amusing consequences. Similarly, Shia Labeouf does Rear Window for the 21st century with Disturbia (bung bung de dum bung bung de dum dum), wherein a broken leg is house arrest, and Grace Kelly is his hot next door neighbour how sunbathes a lot (and reads Lolita, I noticed.) None of the remakes/parodies ever reach the level of perfection attained by Rear Window, but it’s always fun to spot.
The film has thrills and suspense aplenty, as well as a scorching kiss between Kelly and Stewart to add to the spice, psychological warfare, great one-liners, terrific performances and genuine entertainment value. The climactic scene in which Jeffries comes face to face with the murderer is expertly staged - all from the confinement of his front room. There's hardly any music in the film - only background sounds, which give it a more authentic edge. Alfred Hitchcock not only knew how to make good movies, he also knew how to make movies that people would want to see. And boy, oh boy, believe me when I say, you’ve got to see this.