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Review: Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window (1954) 

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Premise: L.B., a photographer confined to a wheelchair (Jimmy Stewart), begins to observe the neighbors in his apartment complex through their windows in a shared courtyard and he begins to believe one of them may be a murderer.

What Works: Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s best films. The story balances between the main narrative (the murder mystery) and its various subplots including the protagonist’s strained romance with Lisa (Grace Kelly) and the various dramas going on in the other apartments. The result is a strongly unified collection of narratives that add up to an exploration of how disconnected people are from one another, even those living next to each other, and how many relationships are largely conducted from a distance. Although murder mysteries are a popular genre, Rear Window is able to stand out from others with its complex level of ambiguity. The entire film takes place within L.B.’s apartment and outside events are seen from his vantage point looking out the window. Rear Window is able to use this limitation to maintain a fairly impenetrable mystery by telling the story entirely from L.B.’s point of view and taking the audience on the journey of discovery with him, encountering doubt, suspicion, and paranoia.  Told from this subjective point of view, the story regulates how much information he and the audience are given and successfully manipulates our understanding and expectation of what we are seeing.

What Doesn’t: Contemporary audiences may find the film slow moving in parts. Also, some of editing, particularly the fades signaling gaps in time, appear clumsy compared to the slicker editing techniques used today.

DVD extras: Documentary on the restoration, featurette with the screenwriter, photographs, trailer, DVD-ROM features.

Bottom Line: With the release of films like Zodiac, Red Eye, Vacancy, and Disturbia Hitchcock’s continued influence of filmmakers is as apparent as ever, and Rear Window is a great example of a production making use of self-imposed limitations that yield greater creative opportunities.

Episode: #141 (May 20, 2007)