I guess for this week it’s Throwback Friday, but I don’t think that quite has the same ring to it…
The concept of a film that takes place entirely in one location is one that has been used time and time again. Some manage to take the idea and turn it into their own (Reservoir Dogs, Locke), whereas others just capitalise on its novelty and nothing else. One of the first films that truly mastered the concept, though, is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Like the majority of Hitchcock films, Rear Window is a slow burn. We’re gradually introduced to the characters, their wants, their needs; we’re drip-fed information and clues about what might happen as the story unfolds. And it completely works.
Part of the reason why this measured delivery is so effective is because of the mystery-thriller plot. You see, L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is a magazine photographer who is on convalescent leave after breaking his leg. With nothing else to do, he fends off impending boredom by peering into the lives of the nearby residents. It doesn’t take long, however, before Jefferies begins to suspect that one of his neighbours has committed a murder. He may be sure of what he’s seen, but he initially finds difficulty in convincing his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) and his detective friend (Wendell Corey). Of course, in a climax that sees Jefferies thrown out of a window by the very man he thought was the murderer, everyone sees that he was right all along – and crucially, wasn’t going mad.
It’s quite a simple plot really, especially when you compare it to the likes of Vertigo. And from a narrative standpoint there isn’t much to criticise. If there’s one area that lets the film down, though, it’s the climax. Take for example, how the murderer is almost entirely thwarted by a few camera flashes, or the way the film speeds up when the residents rush outside to see what’s going on. It all seems so odd and messy. It may have worked in the 1950s, but this scene is a rare Hitchcock moment that hasn’t aged too well.
Despite this one blemish, there are so many other aspects of the film that should be commended. Whether it’s the fantastic sounds design – which allows us to get a comprehensive sense of just how alive the neighbourhood is – or the final realisation that we never really know what goes on in the lives of the other people, there’s a lot more going on here that it might initially seem.
Rear Window is a wonderful film. It’s an exercise in how to do a lot with a little and how to turn the apparently mundane into something thrilling and exciting. Granted, there are a couple of aspects that haven’t held up too well over time, but these do very little to take away from the otherwise expertly-crafted experience.