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Appreciating Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954)

If there’s one thing I struggle with here at Mike’s Take, it’s attempting to write something new and enlightening concerning a bona fide classic. But after watching this Hitchcock masterpiece once again, I’m reminded of how much I love movies and can be swept up in the excitement taking place on screen. Even after having seen this film numerous times, though I’ll admit it’s been a number of years.

stewart-rear-window

What’s a father to say when his son (Kirk aka Number 2 Son) is home from college for the weekend, his girlfriend has gone home and he comes to me and says, “Hey Dad, I thought I’d watch Rear Window if you’d like to join me.” Longing for the days when I’d introduce him to something he hadn’t yet seen two or three nights a week, I shut the hockey game off and sat in to watch the film with him and share the joys of this wonderful film for what would be his first time viewing.  Judging from his reaction, it’ll be the first of many.

While I suspect the majority of you dropping in have seen this, the second of four films James Stewart would make with The Master, a quick plot synopsis is in order. Stewart, who claims that this is his personal favorite of the four Hitchcock teamings is saddled with a broken leg encased in a full length cast, stuck in his apartment moving about in a wheelchair. He’s a professional photographer staring into the courtyard and windows of his neighbors. It’s all rather innocent until his imagination just might be getting the best of him.

Screen Goddess and the perfect Hitchcock leading lady, Grace Kelly is the woman who wants Stewart to put a wedding ring on her finger. Their scenes are sexy and provocative and it’s a firm reminder of the screen presence Miss Kelly had during her all too brief career. Added for good measure is Stewart’s nursemaid and for my money, the best character actress money could buy, Thelma Ritter. When Stewart tells them of his suspicions concerning a man across the courtyard, they get wound up in his tale of murder leading to an amazing adventure without ever really leaving Stewart’s apartment.

rear-window-trio

Did Raymond Burr kill and dismember of his wife? That’s all you need to ask yourself. That and just how could a screen heavy that was as nasty as Raymond Burr up to this point in his career turn it around to become the champion of lawyers everywhere portraying Perry Mason on TV. Stewart’s pal and local detective Wendell Corey doesn’t think so. He just figures Stewart has had far too much time on his hands which in turn has led to his imagination working overtime.

rear-window-burr

A tight story, characters that quickly grow on you including those we never meet but join Stewart in getting to know as if they were in a silent movie. Those he watches and learns about through his viewfinder and window. For a movie that has a camera never leaving Stewart’s apartment, Hitchcock treats us to so many classic images and angles during the sweat inducing moments that we share with the helpless Stewart in the scorching heat of his apartment. I also like the way the script gives Jimmy the background of being a pilot during the second world war. As many of you know, a true fact that caused Stewart to disappear from movie screens for over five years while fighting the axis powers.

It’s so hard to fathom how this perfect film never won a single Academy Award. The fact that it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture alone is a stunner. Even when you look at was, I can easily switch it with four of the five titles that were. No offence to any of them. You’ll have to look them up. I won’t argue with the year’s winner though. Stewart should have scored a nomination as well. Once again I have no problem with the winner of 54.  Grace Kelly would actually win the Oscar but not for this film, that honor was bestowed upon her for The Country Girl. I’ll have to revisit that one to see if I think that was the better role of the two.

thelma-rear-window

Character actress Thelma Ritter’s streak came to an end for Oscar Nominations in 1954 despite being more than worthy of another nod for keeping pace with Jimmy during their multiple scenes together. Thelma had been nominated for four consecutive years leading up to this role. She’d be back with nominations for Pillow Talk and Birdman of Alcatraz giving her a total of six nominations though she’d never claim a win. Another Oscar tragedy.

Then there’s Alfred with a rare nomination here for directing but no Oscar.  While he did receive five Oscar nominations for directing, he incredibly never won a single statuette. Is it the greatest single shame upon the Academy? One could easily make the argument. I say rare nomination even though the number is five. I say this mainly because his films are so stylish and inventive that any number of them could have been given a nomination for directing.

I’ve yet to see the remake of this which was tailor made for Christopher Reeve following his equestrian accident. Have a copy so I guess now would be the time to check it out. Any comments on it?

I’ll close by pointing out it’s a film like this one that reinvigorates me to look back at movies from The Master and how much I love the on screen presence of Jimmy Stewart during the decade of the fifties. What’s your favorite Stewart – Hitchcock film? Given a choice would you rather have a festival of Jimmy’s Hitch films or the run of westerns he made with Anthony Mann? I’ll have to think on that one.

Princess Grace? She adds the “icing” to the cake.

rear-window-1954

15 Comments »

  1. The movie that solidified my love of Hitchcock films…I first saw it when it was re-released to theaters back in 1983. After that, I rented whatever Hitchcock film I could from my local video store (Beta, of course). So yeah, this would be my favorite of the four Stewart-Hitchcock collaborations. And I’d go with a run of Hitchcock-Mann double-features starring Jimmy Stewart…how’s THAT for cheating and getting the best of both worlds!

  2. Even if you don’t find something new about the film to talk about, the story of your kid home from school and wanting to share is worth a post. Plus you ask an intriguing question at the end. I love westerns but Rear Window and Vertigo Trump the Stewart Mann films for me.

    • I love to watch films with my own Dad to this day so I’m very thankful when my boys ask the same of me. I guess I’m blessed. I think most would go with the Hitch films but there’s no doubting the Stewart-Mann films have a following and rightly so.

  3. For years now, I have watched only classic films and classic television programmes, and of course I prefer some actors and actresses to others. Therefore, it is nothing against this excellent film when I tell you that I think Jimmy Stewart was miscast. He was too old for Grace Kelly, and hardly the dashing figure of a man with a taste for adventure. Richard Greene or Stewart Granger would have been better in the role. Possibly David Farrar. He was also too old for Kim Novak (‘Vertigo’), and unsuited to the part of the homosexual schoolmaster in: ‘Rope’. As to the second version of: ‘The Man Who knew Too Much’, I think it is awful (I recommend the original).

    • While I don’t disagree that Jimmy was too old for Grace, I differ on the miscast point. The role was tailored to his age. He’s a war vet and thru photography has seen the world. Might I suggest it’s Grace who is then miscast chasing an older man.
      It’s a story as old as Hollywood. This is no where near as bad/obvious as Gable opposite Sophia in 1960. Let’s say someone like Greer Garson or Joan Fontaine had been cast, might it change your opinion of Jimmy’s being “miscast”?
      Either way, thanks for the input. Always an open discussion.

      • It is inconceivable that Grace would have been mad about him – or shared anything in common with him. (Like most older men, he would have sought out a younger woman – but there is no passion here.) It is equally inconceivable that either Greer Garson or Joan Fontaine (both of whom I think were grand), would have been obsessed with Jimmy: they, like Grace, were gracious and elegant, two qualities for which he clearly had no use. Besides, they would not have displayed youthful enthusiasm. No, I think it would have been a better film with Richard Greene as the photographer. (It intrigues me to imagine what Madeleine Carroll would have done with Grace’s part.) Jimmy might have been happier taking Thelma Ritter away from her husband.

        • Sorry, but those alternatives would have been unthinkable – Richard Greene’s career was very much in decline at that time and he never had the kind of depth Stewart was able to tap into. Is Stewart’s being older than Kelly an issue at all? I really don’t think so – he was only in his 40s at that time and looked OK, and his character’s job was one which would have kept him vital. But regardless of all that, the relationship is meant to be one that has tension built in – the whole point is that the characters are essentially leading different lives, have different interests and ambitions – the age bit doesn’t come into it and I don’t think it’s meant to beyond a subliminal level.

  4. Very nice appreciation here – I think it’s really hard to come up with something new with stuff like this too, but it’s not really necessary to do so. It’s good just to share the material we love and chat a little about why, what works best and so on.
    And I really like this film – it’s possibly the best thing Hitchcock did and if it’s not, it’s as near as makes no difference. Perfectly cast all the way through, beautifully shot and edited, engrossing, thrilling and very satisfying too.

  5. Pretty much a perfect film. I love the apartment complex set. I also like how Hitch shows us how easy it is to get caught up in watching other people go about their lives. It keeps you guessing for much of the film about Thorwald’s guilt or innocence, so we aren’t sure if Jeff is right in his suspicions or not. Cleverly, we also become voyeurs, just like Jeff.

    • Sure is. Such a pleasure to sit and revisit a film like this on occasion and I’ll admit to being a bit star struck at writing about these type of films as so much has been said so I prefer to celebrate them when I do as opposed to sounding like a critic. lol.

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