“That’s a secret, private world you’re looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private they couldn’t possibly explain in public.”
It’s no secret that movie-watchers love to watch people commit crimes. Crime drama is a huge sub-genre, and even films that don’t revolve around crime frequently use it to push the plot forward. There’s a bit of a voyeur in each of us that perks up when we see a crime on film, and it usually makes for a pretty entrancing story. Rear Window, directed by suspense master Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, North by Northwest) and starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, is a meta, almost self-aware reference to this tendency in us: it shows a man watching someone commit what he presumes is a crime. It’s a great classic suspense film with a unique gimmick: the movie takes place almost entirely in one apartment. Whether you appreciate the gimmick or not, this is a clever and entertaining suspense movie that holds up well today.
The plot follows Jeff, a man stuck in his apartment due to a broken leg, as curiosity gets the better of him and he begins peering into the lives of his neighbors. He’s made up stories and nicknames for both of them, and discusses them frequently with his girlfriend Lisa and caretaker Stella. Jeff witnesses a few strange actions from one of his neighbors that build into a full-blown conspiracy theory about murder. Lisa and Stella are skeptical at first, but quickly jump on board, and the three of them work to solve the mystery that they’ve concocted.
Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.
The brilliant thing about this movie is its unpredictability. There are really only two ways it could go: either the neighbor is guilty, and you have a competent mystery to solve, or the neighbor is not guilty, and you have a biting social comment on the dangers of getting involved in places where you shouldn’t. As I watched, I quickly realized this and looked for clues that would give away the ending. There are none. This movie plays both sides extremely well and it keeps you guessing until the end.
In true Hitchcock fashion, this is a suspense movie, but it’s not an edge-of-your-seat thriller. There’s a mystery, but most of the movie is a slow-burn series of new clues and red herrings. There are some very tense moments near the end, made even more tense by the easy-going nature of the rest of the film. Hitchcock is also a master of mixing in wit and humor with his suspense, and this movie is no exception. There are some very clever lines from each of the main characters, as well as some genuinely funny bits.
Rear Window is an entertaining mystery that will probably appeal to most people. It may be a bit slow by today’s standards, but there’s much more to this movie than pure suspense, and enough to carry most viewers through the slower parts. This is a classic I would recommend to just about anyone, and it serves as a great introduction to Hitchcock for those who may not know him well.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock