Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day 172 - Rear Window

I have never Rear Window. As a film that is considered by many to Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest suspense thriller, adding it to the list as my “I have never…” monthly classic movie seemed an obvious choice for the month of October. After all, the month is known for its association with Halloween and all things spooky, which made the work of the father of modern thrillers and horror movies a natural fit for my new film experience. As a result, I started narrowing down the potential days I could set aside time to watch the film in October. After contemplating watching the movie somewhere toward the middle of the month, I realized doing so would take something away from a truly authentic experience, which made me hone in on Halloween night as the perfect time to watch Rear Window for the first time.

After obtaining a copy of the film from a local library, Rachael and I settled in to watch Rear Window with the noise of the dreary, wind-ridden weather whipping at the outside of the house. Having little exposure to the work of Alfred Hitchcock previously, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Rear Window, but I figured the film had to have some degree of appeal to endure as one of the greatest films ever created some 60 years after it was first released. To my benefit, the plot of the film developed quickly enough to set the groundwork for what was yet to come. Without giving too much detail regarding the forthcoming events, Hitchcock carefully planted seeds of perspective from the eyes of the film’s protagonist, a temporarily wheelchair bound professional photographer, L.B. Jefferies.

A watchful eye...

As a man used to capturing moments from his observations of the world around him, a broken leg had left Jefferies’ world confined to the view of the windows lining the buildings around the courtyard visible from his apartment’s rear window. In turn, Jefferies spent his days observing the habits and behaviors of the people living around him, often pressing his limits as to what was acceptable behavior with his observations. Unaware of where the story was going, I felt suspense building as we watched these first moments of Jefferies’ behavior related to the buildings around him. His obsession growing, he spent late nights taking in the final moments of his neighbors’ days, watching them fall asleep, share quiet moments, and argue over trivial matters.


At first, I thought Jefferies’ watchful eye would result in him becoming obsessed to the point of derangement, and the similar concerns expressed by his caretaker, Stella, and significant other, Lisa, seemed to reflect that possibility. As a result, I was surprised when the story made a turn toward identifying the obscure behavior of one of Jefferies’ neighbors, a door to door salesman somewhat new to the neighborhood. During a late night observation Jefferies noticed a neighbor across the courtyard engaging in the strange behavior of leaving and entering his building with a suitcase several times. When Jefferies woke the following day to find the neighbor’s normally bed-bound wife was no longer in the apartment, Jefferies’ imagination began to run wild with the possibility of murder. In turn, his obsessive behavior turned almost exclusively to tracking the salesman’s actions, which set the tone for the remainder of the film.

Busting the theory

After observing the salesman begin packing his belongings to move out of the apartment, wrapping some hand tools in newspaper, and rifle through a bag of jewelry belonging to the man’s wife, Jefferies’ speculation took control, leading him to contact a friend and private investigator, Tom,  to help him prove his theory of murder. Upon being rebuffed by the investigator’s findings, Jefferies moved to recruit the help of Lisa and Stella to help him gather evidence, which forced the story forward into a series of missteps that would endanger those close to Jefferies and result in him facing the accused in the dimly lit space of Jefferies’ own apartment.

Gathering evidence

As the plot of the film accelerated into taking action sourced in Jefferies’ personal obsession, I found myself wrapped up in the unfolding story. The suspense over the inevitable outcome made the remaining portion of the movie fly by as Jefferies and the two women plotted ways to gather information related to the salesman’s actions. Eventually, this resulted in Jefferies distracting the salesman with a phone call to permit Lisa and Stella taking to the courtyard to dig up a portion of a garden that had been a point of interest for a neighbor’s dog some days earlier. I watched on as Lisa and Stella found nothing of interest in the soil, which caused Lisa to spontaneously take to the fire escape to break into the salesman’s temporary vacant apartment. I found myself wrought with anxiety as Jefferies watched the salesman returning from afar, unable to do anything to help Lisa when the salesman discovered her rooting through his apartment.


During the resulting scuffle Jefferies called the police to report the assault, which set him up to face the salesman face to face. As the police questioned Lisa, her signals to Jefferies across the courtyard caused the salesman to put together the pieces of the recent phone call, the break in, and the source of the disturbances. As the police took Lisa into custody, Stella followed close behind to post her bail, which left all eyes off of salesman. In turn, the salesman turned his focus to Jefferies, making the short trip to his apartment to confront the man that had been watching his every move. Helpless, Jefferies waited and watched as the Salesman slowly entered the apartment and walked toward Jefferies through the darkness. I found myself slowly squeezing the nearby blanket between my hands as the two mean drew closer and erupted into conflict. Unable to escape his wheelchair, Jefferies fought for his life as the salesman lunge toward him and started forcing him out the stories-high rear window that had been the single factor leading to that moment.

Caught Red Handed

Now, of course I won’t go into the exact details of how Rear Window draws to a conclusion. It wouldn’t be such of a suspense film if I did. That stated, I will say that my first experience watching Rear Window was well worth sacrificing two hours of my time. Without changing the setting once, Alfred Hitchcock was able to make a movie that was gripping to the bitter end. In fact, I was caught by surprise when I realized two hours had gone by following the end of the film. As a movie made in 1954, Rear Window still stands up against many modern suspense and thriller films I have seen in my life. Sure, some aspects of the scenes and the special effects obviously date the movie, but the plot and the cinematography rival some of the best of our time. In an era of fast paced, vast storytelling I find it hard to believe there are very many modern directors that could make an engaging, two-hour long film with a static background. It rarely, if ever, exists in modern film, and that’s just one feature of Rear Window that makes it stand out as a heart pumping, anxiety-fueling story of suspense. On a night like Halloween, I don’t think I could have picked a better way to spend my time.

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