Don’t you just hate it when people ask you that? “What is your favorite movie? book? TV show?” “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take . . . one food, one movie star, one CD…..” We are complex beings, we humans! Our passions take on different tones as the moon rises or the wind shifts. We may flip the channels and find ourselves at the start of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON…..only on this day we cannot bear to watch Frank Capra’s old-fashioned sense of optimism unfold. We also don’t live in stasis! New movies and books turn up to challenge old favorites for the number one spot. New experiences color the way we look at life – and at the aspects of life we most enjoy. Sometimes, we just grow up, and the pleasures of early days don’t seem as pleasurable anymore. This is why I hate it when people ask me: “What is your favorite movie? Who is your favorite singer? Who is your favorite musical theatre composer?”
And yet . . . if you really want to know . . .
MY FAVORITE MOVIE. Oh, come on, I love hundreds of movies, maybe thousands, for all sorts of reasons. But when that question is posed, one movie always springs to mind, and that is REAR WINDOW. This is a movie I can watch over and over and still get thrilled by. It is, to me, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. (Take that, VERTIGO!)
Why REAR WINDOW? I’ll give you five reasons out of fifty!
- Grace Kelly: Kelly’s first appearance in the film is shrouded in mystery: L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart has fallen asleep in his wheelchair as the night does little to ease the dreaded heat on this New York summer’s evening. Suddenly, a shadow falls across his face; an intruder is in the room with him, beautiful and blonde. Jeff opens his eyes, and in achingly beautiful slow motion, we see from his point of view the blondes approach into a slow motion kiss. The exchange that follows is funny and intensely erotic:
She: How’s your leg.
He: It hurts a little.
She: And your stomach?
He: Empty as a football.
She: (kiss) And your love life?
He: Not too active.
She: (with a smile) Anything else bothering you?
He: Who are you?
She pulls away and Hitchcock uses the camera to reveal more and more of her as she introduces herself to Jeff and the audience: “Reading from top to bottom, Lisa Carol Fremont.”
It’s clear from this first sight of Kelly that Hitchcock adores her and means for us to adore her as well. How ironically wonderful that much of the movie is about Jeff’s unwillingness to commit romantically to Lisa. What is this guy, crazy? Turns out: yes, just a little bit.
- Thelma Ritter: If Kelly gets all the best shots in the film, Ritter gets all the best lines as Stella the nurse, and she handles them with casual brilliance. At the film’s outset, she lays out the whole philosophy behind this – and many other Hitchcock films: “We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.” I don’t think there is a funnier character in all of Hitchcock’s works. Nor is there a more moral character in the film. While Jeff and Lisa gleefully try to prove his neighbor guilty of murder, Stella takes the time to point out that another neighbor, Miss Lonelyhearts, is about to commit suicide. Check out Stella’s best quotes from this film here on imdb.
- The way Hitchcock opens up the story: The film is based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich called “It Had To Be Murder.” The basic premise is the same: Hal Jeffries, a man laid up with a broken leg, watches out his window and comes to believe that his neighbor across the way has murdered his wife. In the story, that’s it! Will Hal convince the police that what he believes is true? And is it even true?
Hitchcock takes that premise and creates a magnificent suspense film. But he also tells another story about one of his great preoccupations: the need for man and woman to marry. Like Hal in the story, Jeff Jeffries is laid up with a broken leg. He’s bored, and it’s hot inside and out. He needs a distraction, and yet he can’t see to find that with the gorgeous model of a girlfriend who brings takeout from Twenty One over to his shabby studio every night and then necks with him in the dark. He needs danger, a sure sign of Hitchcock’s that the man is in emotional trouble. He gets that danger, and in doing so takes a journey that may (or may not) connect him on a deeper level to Lisa. And just in case you didn’t realize that this is Hitchcock’s intent, the director ordered his screenwriter to open up the story to include number three on my list:
- The neighbors: There are no other neighbors in Woolrich’s story, but Hitchcock’s film is loaded with them, a varied assortment of New Yorkers living on one of the greatest interior sets ever built for a film. There’s the newlywed couple in the left corner, the eccentric sculptress living below the fun-loving Miss Torso; there’s the pathetic Miss Lonelyhearts, seeking out love with inappropriate men, the Thorwalds with their constant bickering, the older couple at the top who lavish all their love on a dog, and the composer, seeking inspiration amongst the party crowd for a song. The individual lives of all these people touch in different ways and come together due to Jeff’s obsession about Lars Thorwald across the way. But more than that, each apartment contains a person or people who somehow reflect on the characters and/or relationship of Jeff and Lisa. At one point, Jeff compares Lisa to Miss Torso and refutes any connection between her and Miss Lonelyhearts? “Oh?” says Lisa. “You can see into my window all the way from here?” Most chilling is the leading couple’s connection to the Thorwald’s themselves: Mrs. Thorwald looks a little like Lisa and nags her husband in a way similar to the way Lisa complains about Jeff’s lack of commitment. And Thorwald’s thick eyeglasses remind us of the telephoto lenses always clamped to Jeff’s eye. Lisa wants a wedding ring from Jeff. And isn’t it a bit sinister that the only ring she gets here is Mrs. Thorwald’s?
- The look: I don’t mean the look of the film (which is glorious). I’m talking about an actual look, an iconic moment you find in many Hitchcock films but is done no better than it is done here. The looker: Raymond Burr. The lookee: James Stewart. I won’t say anymore, except to tell you that I show this film to my cinema class every year, and the moment of “the look” still gives me chills as if I were watching REAR WINDOW for the first time!
If you haven’t seen this movie, you need to get off the computer and watch it for the first time FAST!!! After you do, let me know what you thought! I have at least forty-five other things to discuss with you!