Rear Window: It Had to Be Murder!

Rear Window showcases Alfred Hitchcock as the perfectionist, incredible director that he was, a man that had complete control over his film from the opening scene right until the end. Rear Windows’s story takes place and unfolds in one courtyard connecting multiple buildings, and most of it only happens in one apartment; a setting that would be extraordinarily limited and tedious in any other circumstances, but what Hitchcock does with it here is just plain marvelous. An extremely suffocating and narrow setting in reality, Alfred Hitchcock in the first few minutes of Rear Window makes this Chelsea courtyard seem more alive and full of opportunities than any other place in the world, and continues portraying the endless possibilities even the tiniest, most monotonous dwellings can hold throughout the film’s runtime...within the four walls of these regular, middle-class apartments, there is love, dreams, deception, and even murder.

Rear Window tells the story of L. B. Jefferies (played by Jimmy Stewart), a professional, adventurous photographer who’s bed-ridden because of an injured leg. Due to a heatwave, his window is always open and he spends his days (for lack of a more polite word) spying on his neighbors. He is almost always alone with his voyeuristic intentions, unless his nurse is visiting him, or his sweetheart Lisa Fermont (played by the incredible Grace Kelly). One night, as he is peeping out the window, he hears a woman shout, “Don’t!”, and later, sees her husband acting very questionably. Jeff begins to suspect a murder, and as his private detective friend denounces all of his doubts and tries to comfort him, he must prove the murder through his observations and the aid of Lisa and his nurse.

Rear Window was shot entirely on set in Paramount studios. The incredibly detailed, huge set took 6 weeks to build and had a very elaborate drainage system to allow the rainy scenes. Lights were also set up very carefully around the set to allow for both night and daytime scenes. But the most wonderful technical aspect of the film is how Alfred Hitchcock makes this very narrow setting seem so very large and full of life. The overwhelming majority of the film is shot through Jeff’s perspective, and while this has thematic and moral implications on the audience, it also forces the viewer to take this whole setting in through a questionable activity: spying. See, anything is much more fascinating and attractive if done illicitly, and a simple of act of seeing a semi-naked woman exercise or a newlywed couple enter their apartment for the first time can seem much more captivating than it is in reality.

As Martin Scorsese describes Jimmy Stewart’s character, he is a little bit on the edge morally, the activity that has come to consume his days since his injury is very questionable and condemned by societal norms, but the clumsy, likeable character of Jimmy Stewart prevents us from judging his actions too harshly, and when the film opens, and we are forced to take this journey with him, we cannot detach ourselves, we are now spying as well. His concerns become ours, and so do his doubts, silly notions, and even his well-being. While fully knowing that he is not exactly “good” morally, when his safety is threatened, we can’t but feel concerned for him.

What is more distressing about Jimmy Stewart is what could be identified as a certain sexual perversion, although here, of course, it is portrayed very subtly. The film in its entirety is an exercise in voyeurism, but the first act of the film, before the suspense starts and the element of murder is introduced, Jeff’s activities have no goal behind them but personal pleasure. One of his neighbors is a young woman who is always half-naked and either exercising or dancing, earning the title of “Miss Torso” from him. A side character with no objective but to be a subject of the male gaze for both the protagonist and the audience, she illuminates the moral implications of his activities. His nurse, Stella, criticizes his behavior and tells him once at the beginning of the film, “in the old days, they’d put your eyes out with a red hot poker,” and urges him to marry Lisa. A reference to noir narratives which keeps the debate of whether Rear Window is film noir or not is how Lisa signifies what is known as the redeemer in noir stories, while the protagonist ignores all of her innocent, attractive traits and opts for her lustful, dangerous counterpart.

Through an intricate use of single clues and idle doubts, Alfred Hitchcock creates an incredible feeling of suspense in Rear Window, leaving the viewer on their toes and never sure of what the end holds. With voyeuristic intentions, the film’s protagonist comes upon a doubt of a murder by chance and through his improper observations, we take a journey with him in an attempt to solve what might be murder, or just idle imagination, in what is one of the most entrancing and entertaining films ever made.  


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