With most of us confined to our homes for the foreseeable future, I got to thinking – what are some films that are set in the one place?
There’s Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, which sees, well, 12 angry men confined to a courthouse. There’s John Hughes’ seminal high school classic The Breakfast Club, and Ben Wheatley’s warehouse-set shoot ‘em up Free Fire.
But all of these films follow characters that grapple with fleeting moments of confinement. It’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) that elongates this notion of isolation and an inability to move to several days and weeks.
Hitchcock is no stranger to films that are rooted in one place, with 1948’s Rope and 1954’s Dial M for Murder both exploring this concept. But Rear Window is where Hitchcock perfected the technique. So, in keeping with the times, I took another look at Rear Window and came away with a newfound appreciation of this classic.
Rear Window sees magazine photographer L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies (James Stewart) confined to his sweltering New York apartment with a broken leg during a heatwave. Bored and frustrated after several long and sticky weeks confined to a wheelchair, there is little for Jefferies to do but gaze out his rear window at the apartments and people who exist just out of his reach.
Narratively, Rear Window is remarkably simple. Jefferies overhears something grisly in the middle of the night but can’t piece it together in the days that follow. He can only sit there in his pyjamas with his camera, peering down the lens and watching everyone in his neighbourhood like ‘bugs under a glass’. Jefferies is positively bristling at the chance to catch his neighbours in the act, specifically the shifty-looking salesman Thorwald (Raymond Burr) who lives just across the courtyard.
Of course, Hitchcock being Hitchcock, Rear Window doesn’t rebuke this idea or reprimand Jefferies and his accomplices (Grace Kelly’s socialite Lisa and Thelma Ritter’s nurse Stella) for their voyeuristic tendencies. Quite the opposite, in fact. In this perverse reality, the voyeur – and by extension, the audience – is vindicated, as all our suspicions prove well founded. Keep tabs on those across the street, Hitchcock suggests, and you might just sniff out a murderer.
Every open widow tells a different story, but not in full. A lot of the plot is communicated visually and without dialogue. Like Jefferies, the audience is made to join the dots with one arm tied behind our back. A jumped conclusion here, a leap of faith there – and suddenly, the next-door neighbour is a wife killer.
It might not be as scary as Psycho, as thrilling as North by Northwest or as dizzying as Vertigo, but Rear Window is Hitchcock at the top of his game. It might even be my favourite of the lot. It features two terrific performances from an increasingly unhinged Stewart and an otherworldly Kelly respectively, as well as some gorgeous production and costume design. What it has to say about loneliness and isolation is as apt today in our terrifying world of social distancing as it was back in the 50’s.
Stay safe (and sane) while staying home, or you might just start suspecting someone in your street of something strange…
By Rhys Pascoe
Rear Window is available on Amazon Prime and Blu-Ray in Australia.
Image courtesy of Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Australia.