dir. alfred hitchcock
“A murderer would never parade his crime in front of an open window.”
E.B. White has an essay called “Goodbye to Forty-Eighth Street” that I read every year or so. He’s packing up his apartment, going through his things, and looking out the window at passersby (whom he lovingly refers to as the unknowing “cast of characters” in the “play” that is his life). This sentiment, the concept of an unknown cast of characters familiar to one person, is what makes Rear Window so damn good. Over the course of the film, we see people known only by nicknames assigned by the protagonist; they don’t know we’re watching them, and they don’t know something sinister is going on in the rear apartment of their building.
Rear Window is one of the movies that got this whole thing started–this nagging voice in my head reminding me that I’d never seen it, and didn’t really know that much about it. It exceeded all of my expectations (which were optimistically high; films don’t always hold up, critically acclaimed or not) and certainly ranks among the top of Hitchcock’s canon.
Jimmy Stewart plays a photographer in his final week of wheelchair confinement after an accident. He takes to watching his neighbors, and ultimately stumbles upon a possible murder mystery in the apartment across the way. He watches the tenant closely, hoping to catch the clue that will put him away.
Hitchcock is crafty as hell here. The whole film essentially takes place in the living room of Stewart’s apartment, looking through the window at the apartments surrounding his courtyard. Through incredible use of camera tricks and set design, the film walks the line between claustrophobia (when it wants) and complete freedom of the (small, yet full) world around them. The mystery is engaging, and the climax is classic Hitchcock suspense; it’s a ride.