Rear Window (1954): A Timely Feature

Quarantine. Lockdown. Shelter in place.

No one would have guessed such dystopian, sci-fi concepts would become a reality for the last three months of our lives.

L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies could empathize.

He broke his leg and has been wheelchair-ridden in his small, quaint New York City apartment for six weeks. The once renowned freelance photojournalist had the world in his hands, but now his world consists of an itchy cast, a daily visit from the physical therapy nurse, and the evening appearances of his high society fiancée, Lisa.  

Through a dreamy POV shot, Lisa first emerges like an angel to sleepy eyes. She is beautiful, generous, patient, and perfect – almost too perfect. Yet, for most imperfect men, a woman who is too perfect is perfect. Jeff is merely stubborn, basking most likely in self-pity from being confined to a chair for six weeks and converting back to old ways of self-will. He doesn’t realize what he has right in front of him, so he looks through his rear apartment window for curious pleasure, and, perhaps, some answers.  

Panning left to right, Jeff sees a newlywed couple just arriving for their honeymoon (quick to put the shades down); a professional dancer tenant, who practices her pirouettes in the living room; a couple who lowers their dog in a basket to do his business in the downstairs garden; “Miss Lonelyhearts,” who talks to imaginary lovers at the dinner table; a couple who bickers as the wife stays in bed all day and causes obvious frustration in the husband; and a struggling composer, banging away at the piano.

All completely manufactured in a Paramount Studio sound stage in Hollywood

It’s the bickering couple that becomes Jeff’s primary focus when the wife is no longer seen the next morning. A scream was heard the night before, and a large saw, a gigantic suitcase, and new hole in the garden start to pop up. Jeff begins to suspect a murder has taken place.

Innocent gazing out the window becomes an obsessive hobby, and in no time, the nurse and Lily share the same fascination (and binoculars).

Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart

A premise like this must have been pure gold for the likes of legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock is all about perspective – objective and subjective. There are times when his camera is the viewpoint of Jeff, telling a simple story of simple observations. But there is a transition in the middle of the movie where Hitchcock lets us – the audience – in on a secret while Jeff is sleeping, and the simple story becomes a moral conflict between interpreting what was witnessed, what should be disclosed, and what invades privacy. In fact, the genius of this change in perspective is that we aren’t 100% sure of what we’ve seen either!

Jimmy Stewart is impeccable as the much older but not much wiser Jeff, and his pride is tempered wonderfully by Grace Kelly as Lisa. A dull, self-isolated life can lead to the doldrums, and all Jeff and Lisa need is a little excitement to help them look outside themselves. “Outside” becomes a literal and metaphorical adventure.

The Hitchcockian irony is that Jeff cannot escape what little self-worth he has in his lonely confinement because even outside his window, he sees reflections of himself. Hitchcock then turns the table on us as we reflect on the moral code of voyeurism and observation interpretation.

Thankfully, today, we have way more distractions to keep us entertained than Jeff did in 1954. But, with any unexpected quarantine, lockdown, or shelter in place, there is the likelihood of boredom and despair. And, there is always a window.

27 thoughts on “Rear Window (1954): A Timely Feature

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  1. First off, thanks for following my blog, so now I can follow yours! Second, this is a wonderful commentary on a great film. Third, “Rear Window” is one of my top 5 all-time favorite films, and one that I can watch over and over again and be thrilled by every single time. Everything about it – the sets, the storyline, the dialogue and acting are all perfect, and Grace Kelly lights up the screen like few other actresses could. And of course, the hard-boiled Thelma Ritter is always a joy to watch.

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    1. First, thank YOU for the follow and read. I look forward to browsing more of your entries! Second, yes, if there was a “perfect” movie, Rear Window would be in the short list for sure. It’s seamless, airtight suspension. I wish I could walk that set 🙂

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    1. Thank you for reading! Yeah, after a third viewing, I started realizing the concept is more about doing work on yourself because you’ll only find the same quandaries in other people. A classic, perfect movie. And, yes, that set! I wish I could have visited it before they tore it down…

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  2. Nice review! “The Hitchcockian irony is that Jeff cannot escape what little self-worth he has in his lonely confinement because even outside his window, he sees reflections of himself.”
    That is an insight I hadn’t thought of before. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, thank you for reading, Cindy! That was my favorite sentence, and you made my day. It would take some time, but if you analyze each character on a surface level, they each provide a personality trait Jeff either used to possess, exudes presently, or yearns for in the future. At least, that’s my thesis, and I observed this most during my most recent viewing of this gem.

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  3. I must see this again especially being locked up like a guinea pig. Very apt movie selection as you put it. Rear Window, Psycho, Dial M for Murder and Vertigo are my favourite Hitchcock films. Wonderful review as always!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, and I hope you are well. I’m hoping we are re-peaking now so that we can all go back to school in a couple of months, haha! Yes, it’s impossible to choose a favorite Hitchcock. It depends on what my last viewing was, I guess. I still have to see Dial M for Murder! Yikes!

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      1. Oh my God, down all tools and watch Dial M For Murder! Haha. You’ll love it. Yep doing alright here. Bogota’s quarantine is one of the strictest in the world, so it hasn’t been all roses. I doubt school will be reopened here until a vaccine comes, because so many kids live with their grandparents. I also hope this message finds you well and you’ll be back to school in no time!

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          1. We have what’s called ‘Pico y Cedula’ which means if your civil ID number ends with an odd number you can leave the house for essentials on ‘even’ dates of the month. That’s where we are at here. lol. I had this year planned to travel.Umm not going to happen haha. Thanks for your encouraging words Bernie.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. So many plans, so little expectation of such events. That sounds so dystopian! Our school is sending a hybrid online/in-person plan to the teachers next week. Lots of rotations, using even and odd numbers as well and splitting classes in half and essentially re-teaching lessons back-to-back. Ugh.

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  4. Great thriller. Some of the best acting by Jimmy Stewart and it’s always nice to see Grace Kelly. Loved that set they made. This is one of my favorite Hitchcock movies.

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