Rear Window – A Second Look

 

still-of-james-stewart-in-rear-window-(1954)-large-picture The previous time James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock worked together was on Rope; an experimental piece for Hitch that was considered a failure by most critics of the time. Stewart himself was not happy with the picture, or with the role, which he felt was not right for him. Additionally, there was the fact Rope was not a financial box office success. Some cities even requested cuts before it was to be shown. In Chicago it was banned outright. This was most likely because the storyline was a bit too close to the real life Loeb-Leopold case of the 1920’s.  Subsequently, when Hitchcock called about Rear Window, Stewart was hesitant to accept, especially after hearing that, like Rope, the film would take place mostly on one set. Furthermore, he would be confined to a wheelchair for the entire film.

Rear-Window-1Promises from Hitchcock ensured Stewart Rear Window will not include the same long ten minute takes he endured in Rope. That along with financial incentives, and noting Grace Kelly would be his co-star, all helped ease Stewart’s concerns. That said, Mrs. Stewart, Gloria, was not that happy. As the wife of a movie star, Gloria was well aware her husband would sometimes be involved in on screen love scenes and accepted that it came with the territory. But Grace Kelly was already on her way to building a reputation for sleeping with her co-stars as she apparently did with Ray Milland during the making of Dial M for Murder. Milland was just one in a list of leading men she slept with that included William Holden, Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra and Gary Cooper, among others.  What made the Milland affair particularly troublesome for Gloria was that she was close friends with Mrs. Milland! While no affair occurred, Jimmy was an all American boy and did, like all of Kelly’s co-stars, find her charming and alluring. rear window - grace kelly - swoopingIt should come as no surprise to anyone that as a photographer Jeffries likes to look. Hey, that’s what photographers do. They look, they frame, they snap! Annie Leibovitz once said, “One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and on. It’s on all the time.”  As a photographer myself, I agree, you are always looking, framing and in your head you hear the click of a shutter over and over. Trapped in a wheelchair due to a leg injury incurred when he got too close to the action at an auto raceway, L. B. Jefferies has spent the last weeks overlooking the courtyard, via his large bay window, which essentially acts as a one man multi-plex to the world outside where he can jump from one screen (apartment) to another, one story to another. There are a wide variety of stories going on; the out of work songwriter, an affectionate newlywed couple, a lonely woman Jeffries has dubbed Miss Lonelyhearts, a young dancer he calls Miss Torso. There are also a few married couples. Ond with a dog, another who sleep out on the fire escape and lastly Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his sick wife. rearwindow02Jeffries girlfriend, Lisa Freemont (Grace Kelly), a high fashion model, is pushing him to settle down and get married, a concept Jeffries reacts to as if it were allergenic. We first meet Lisa about 16 minutes into the film in an extreme close up, her elegantly beautiful face leaning forward kissing Jefferies.  She is not only beautiful but stylish and sophisticated, a rare classic that has every man in the audience thinking he must be crazy not to want to marry her. Jeffries begins to focus on the Thorwald’s when he notices Mrs. Thorwald, who was always visible through her bedroom window, seems to have disappeared. Additionally, Mr. Thorwald, a salesman by trade, has began to go out at odd hours of the night with his sample case in hand. Jeffries suspects murder. However Lisa and Stella (Thelma Ritter), his visiting nurse, do not believe his assertions but they soon become convinced something foul is going on. Rear-Window-pic-3For James Stewart, this role was part an image change that began earlier in the decade when he started to work with Anthony Mann in a series of westerns (The Naked Spur, Bend of the River, The Man From Laramie) that would continue throughout the decade.  The All-American Jimmy Stewart had a dark side! Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Straight Lace of It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Vivacious Lady and so many others had a streak that walked on the wild side. As Jeffries, Stewart is anti-marriage, voyeuristic and obstinate, yet he manages to hold on the audience as a sympathetic character you want to cheer on. Rivolit theater - REar WindowRear Window was based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, writing as William Irish, called, It Had to be Murder, which first was published in ‘Dime Detective’ magazine back in 1942. Hitchcock hired John Michael Hayes to flesh out the short story into a screenplay. It was the first of four times they would work together. Hayes is responsible, at Hitchcock’s request, for adding Kelly’s fashion model character.  Stewart’s character was loosely based on war photographer, Robert Capa. The film opened on August 1st, 1954 at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway in New York City. Coincidently, one week later another film opened just a few blocks further down on Broadway with the similar theme of voyeurism at the less auspicious Globe Theater, Richard Quine’s Pushover, which officially introduced future Hitchcock blonde, Kim Novak (1) and future James Stewart co-star in Vertigo and Bell Book and Candle, both in 1958, to screen audiences.

Footnote:

(1)  Novak’s credit for Pushover is her real introduction to audiences despite a previously uncredited bit part in The French Line.

 

This article is part of the CLASSIC FILM AND TV CAFE Blogathon now showing through April 17th.

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26 comments on “Rear Window – A Second Look

  1. “Rear Window” always works, always draws you in. Whether you come across it already started on TV or you make the effort to see it in a theatre. The Bell Lightbox (home of the Toronto International Film Festival) was packed when they screened it a couple of years ago. It’s always worth a second look, and yours was a particular peach.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Patricia! Hands down this is my own favorite Hitchcock and one of my favorite films of all time. It’s clearly in my top 10. I saw this film on the big screen back in the 1980’s when they released it and about four or five other Hitchcock films that had been out of circulation. Thanks again.

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  2. Love this movie, and your take on it, particularly as a photographer yourself.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Jacqueline! I love films that have a photographer as one of the main characters. I automatically identify with him or her.

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  3. Toto says:

    I love “Rear Window,” particularly because of its confined setting. It is one thing to be the voyeur with the broken leg but quite another to be the victim. I also enjoy that we constantly miss dialogue because we have to watch others from afar; it reminds us that film is a visual medium first. You made a great observation about James Stewart having a dark side. And you are right that most of us wondered why anyone would be a reluctant suitor for Grace Kelly’s Lisa. Great post!

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  4. John Greco says:

    True, film is a visual medium first. Too many filmmakers forget that. I am not knocking dialogue, Billy Wilder wrote great scripts and made great films but I do love when a filmmaker uses visual style to tell and advance his story. Thanks!!!

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  5. Kevin Deany says:

    One of the great ones. I remember the first time I saw this was at the 1980s reissue in the theaters and the Saturday night crowd was screaming out loud at the scene where Grace Kelly is searching Raymond Burr’s apartment and Stewart sees Burr returning early.

    Good observations too about how much we like Stewart despite the general negative aspects of his character’s personality. I always felt sorry for the Raymond Burr character as well. Hitchcock was a marvelous manipulator of the audience’s emotions and I mean that in the best way possible. Wonderful post, John.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Kevin! REAR WINDOW is one of those films that is a nice blend of art and entertainment at its best. Hitchcock leads the audience in one direction and keeps the twist and suspense at a nice pitch. Yes, the Kelly scene where she searches RB’s apartment is a nail biter!

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  6. classicfilmtvcafe says:

    This my wife’s favorite Hitchcock film and one of my faves, too. I think the casting of Stewart is one of the reasons why the film is so effective. As you stated, the simple fact is that Jeff becomes a voyeur, who spies on the private lives of his neighbors for entertainment (initially). That could be rather creepy, but Hitchcock mitigates it by having the likable Stewart play Jeff. It helps too when classy Grace Kelly and funny Thelma Ritter become his accomplices!

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    • John Greco says:

      You’re right about the casting of Stewart helping to make the film effective. As much as I like Cary Grant I think he would have been miscast had he did this role. Kelly is gorgeous and Thelma Ritter is excellent. She’s always add a nice touch to whatever film she is in.

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  7. doriantb says:

    John, REAR WINDOW was a great pick for the James Stewart Blogathon! As a native New Yorker (though we’ve lived in NE PA for over a decade), REAR WINDOW is one of my favorite Hitchcock films (NORTH BY NORTHWEST being my hands-down favorite), from stars Stewart, the enchanting Grace Kelly, and all the great supporting cast of Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, including Raymond Burr in his pre-PERRY MASON bad-guy roles. I’d heard that Grace’s co-stars always fell in love with her, but I didn’t know she was apparently encouraging them — who know she was such a little minx? 🙂 We got to see again years ago in a real theater, after Hitchcock was able to get it back in circulation, along with his other film 1950s films, all spiffy and restoresd! Awesome post, my friend; it’s just the kind of great review I’d expect from an actual seasoned photographer such as yourself! 😀

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  8. John Greco says:

    Dorian, thanks for the kind words! NBNW is a great film and one of my top Hitchcock favorites. As for Grace and her lovers, I read that it was actually her mother who spilled the beans to the press on all the romances and Grace was upset about it at the time. Stewart was apparently a faithful husband much to Gloria Stewarts relief.

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  9. Sam Juliano says:

    A fabulous review of one of the all-time greatest film masterworks John, and one that only weeks ago re-discovered at the Film Forum’s Hitchcock Festival for the umteenth time. This is one of those films that works over and over no matter how many times you see it, and you always learn something new. As animal lovers I think you and I can point to one aspect that was disconcerted, and that was the prone body on the pavement of that adorable dog. But it only enhances our hatred for Burr’s character. Humor and suspense is perfectly modulated, and Hitchcock’s direction is text book.

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    • John Greco says:

      Agree Sam, this is one of the most re-watchable films there is. The dog scene is hard to take for sure. I actually always want to feel sorry for Burr’s character but his killing the dog makes it hard. In addition to the two stars, Thelma Ritter adds a nice touch,

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  10. Wonderful film…didn’t know about Grace Kelly’s penchant for leading men..poor Mrs. Milland and I can understand Mrs. Stewart’s reason to worry!

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  11. girlsdofilm says:

    Great quote from Leibovitz!
    I think Rear Window is my favourite Stewart/Hitch collaboration. This film never fails to disappoint. Every time I re-watch it I get so pulled into the characters and the performance (Thelma Ritter is also excellent), and I catch myself wondering how it’s going to end. Thanks for writing so eloquently about one of my faves!

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    • John Greco says:

      Thank you for stopping by. Thelma Ritter enhances just about every film she is in. A great supportin actress! Thanks again for the kind words.

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  12. The Lady Eve says:

    Fascinating entry on one of Hitchcock’s greatest, John, and you certainly cover a lot of territory. I didn’t know Stewart had been hesitant to take the part at first. So glad Hitch convinced him! For me, his performances in “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” are his best, much as I like his work in films like “The Shop Around the Corner” and “Anatomy of a Murder,” etc.

    Years ago, “Rear Window” was the film I chose to introduce my approx. 7 yrs. old godson to Hitchcock and classic films in general. Odd choice, maybe, but he loved it. He repeatedly rewound the scene in which Mrs. Thorwald cries out and a glass can be heard breaking.

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    • John Greco says:

      Eve, Hopefully your godson has become a classic film lover. I like Stewart’s performances in all the films you mention and I will add all the Anthony Mann westerns too as favorites.

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  13. Laura O says:

    Great blog. I’ve nominated you http://wp.me/p3sWVR-ha

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  14. What more can you say about this great film? It pleases on every level and never gets old. Thanks for a wonderful review. However, I will say that Jeffries is a dope to keep giving Lisa Carol Fremont such a hard time. He better watch out or she may find a more suitable “Prince Charming.”

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  15. Le says:

    This was my first Hitchcock film and remains a favorite. I love how Jimmy could be dark, obstinated, even a little crazy (come on, you can’t be 100% sane and imagine the murder happening in your neighborhood), but we keep rooting for him. Good ol’ Jimmy!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Greetings!
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2014/04/ouro-do-ceu-pot-ogold-1941.html

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