Hollywood was a different world in the 1940’s-1950’s due to the politics and society. Production codes, blacklists, the Catholic Church, war, and more had a great influence and put limitations on films at this point in time. There were a few great films made in the 1950’s, but many were characterized by their timidity, conformity, and enforcement of moral codes. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) was one of the rare great films during the 1950’s. He pushed the limits to the edge and challenged the ideals of this time period.
The Rear Window is about a professional photographer named L.B. Jeffries, but goes by Jeff. Jeff breaks one of his legs while getting an action shot at an auto race. He has been confined to his small New York apartment until his leg has healed. Boredom has set and to entertain himself he spends his time looking out of the rear window observing the neighbors while in his wheelchair. While watching, he witnesses some odd occurrences and begins to suspect that one of his neighbors has murdered his wife. Jeff, with the help of his fashion-consultant girlfriend, Lisa Freemont, and his visiting nurse, Stella, to investigate and solve this mysterious case.
It might be considered in our review of Hollywood’s Last Golden Age for a couple reasons. It was indeed noted by Jonathan Kirshner, the author, as one of the few great films to be released in the late 50's and 60's and is consider today by many to be one the greatest films in history. The reason why it was so great was due to Alfred Hitchcock. He created a master piece with his ability to create a thrilling story, but keeping it simple and confined. He visually created a pleasing film noir and used stunning cinematography effects.
This story is pretty much confined to one location. Everything was from Jeff’s point of view looking out among his neighbors. Being locked in this location helps create tension and friction as the story moves along. Jeff so desperately wants to solve the case, but is trapped inside looking out. This helps fuel some conflicts in the story. While Jeff and Lisa solving the potential murder case is the main focus of the story, each window has its own story to tell. The lives across the courtyard, from the newlyweds to the frustrated musician to Miss Lonely Heart and etc., parallel and contrast the stalled romance between Jeff and Lisa. The other stories in the apartments forewarn the perils of domesticity that Jeff so fears. Each window also acts as its own miniature story or show. There are so many layers to Rear Window. It might have been Hitchcock’s most thematically rich work.
It was also another great example of Hitchcock’s handy work with cinematography. Everything was beautifully planned, the colors, the cuts, the transitions. The set is beyond phenomenal. It was like a miniature world all on its own. The use of windows in the film is so clever and gives it a unique look. The environment plays into the soundtrack and the ambience of the movie. He keep the viewers involved. He drags out shots to add suspense or adds special effects to make the viewers feel they are in Jeff’s point of view. A few examples of the point of view are shown in the clips below.
Each one is adding to the moment in that point of the film. In the first clip, it makes it appear as if we are looking through his camera with him. The black circle around the subject helps make that believable. In the second clip, the use of the red flashing circles and the bright white flash puts the audience in that suspenseful moment. There is so much character, layering, and detail put into a Hitchcock film.
Rear Window really was far ahead of its time with some of the directorial choices that Hitchcock implemented here. It will remain a classic and one of the greatest movies of all time.