Christopher Reeve Stars in “Rear Window”

16 06 2013

“Rear Window,” my contender for best Alfred Hitchcock film of all time, starred James Stewart as a photographer confined to a wheelchair while recovering from a broken leg; in this version, Reeve put his own paralysis onscreen as Jason Kemp, an architect who was injured in a car crash.

The movie spends a significant amount of time on Kemp’s difficult physical rehabilitation and his hope to one day walk again; Reeve clearly was inspired to air some of the issues he had been exploring in his own life, in which he had become an advocate for victims of spinal cord injuries. Confined to his own Soho, NY, apartment, Kemp attempts to get back to business as usual, but during the months he spent in recovery his pet project was handed over to a young architect played by Hannah. Together, they continue to work on Kemp’s building, but it is during the long stretches of time he spends alone and looking out his window that Kemp realizes the sculptor across the alley may have killed his own wife.

With help from Hannah, as well as his nurse, a philosophically inclined Jamaiacan man, and a crusty cop played by Robert Forster, Kemp uses his wits and his computer to unravel the mystery. And while he and Hannah begin to forge a relationship by the end of the film, the story’s conclusion disappoints, as the body is never found—and without that, the police can’t prove that a murder occurred.

rear-window-1998-1The film is very much a product of its decade: Email is considered fancy and new, and the murderer is a sculptor, reflecting Soho’s booming gallery scene. Also, Kemp’s voice-activated computer is so good it’s comparable to the computers on “Star Trek.” Still, “Rear Window” relies on suspicion of wrongdoing that builds to suspense, and here the suspense comes from Kemp’s seeming helplessness when he’s confronted by the killer.

Even in a wheelchair, Reeve remains boyishly charming, and it’s particularly poignant to watch “Rear Window” and realize that the cure he hoped for would not come in time for him. Christopher Reeve died on October 10, 2004.


“Castle” Salutes Alfred Hitchcock with “Rear Window” Homage

12 04 2013

Picture 7The April 1 episode of the ABC TV series “Castle” featured a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”—the movie that I said here was even better than “Vertigo,” which as we all know is now considered the best movie ever made.

I admit that this is the first time I’ve watched “Castle,” but it wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on. Nathan Fillion plays Richard Castle, mystery novel writer and wannabe detective; Stana Katic is Detective Kate Beckett, Castle’s girlfriend. There isn’t much more you need to know going in; Beckett has partners and a gruff captain, and Castle has a young adult daughter, and the show is a mix of comedy and suspense, which lends itself perfectly to tonight’s fun.

Castle, laid up with a broken kneecap (ow!) from a skiing accident, is bored stiff while he hangs around his fabulous New Picture 4York apartment, and so he starts peeking out the windows at his neighbors. When he sees a young couple having an affair, he’s intrigued, but when the husband arrives and looks like he’s going to stab his wife to death, Castle is horrified. Everything he thinks he saw is basically circumstantial, though, so he decides to break into the apartment to find some hard evidence.

In the end [SPOILERS!], the whole thing was a set-up, planned by Beckett as a way to keep him occupied while recuperating, leading up to a surprise birthday party in the supposed murderer’s apartment.

Meanwhile, the show gives us another Hitchcock homage, as if to say that this episode was created with real reverence to the Master of Suspense: In the real murder story, a female IRS agent is killed under mysterious circumstances. Her name? Mrs. De Winter—a name familiar to fans of “Rebecca.”

You can catch this episode on Hulu (that’s how I saw it), and it’s probably available on demand on some cable systems.

Alfred Hitchcock Invites Us to Peer Through His “Rear Window”

22 11 2010

“It was the possibility of doing a purely cinematic film. You have an immobilized man looking out. That’s one part of the film. The second part shows what he sees and the third part shows how he reacts. This is actually the purest expression of a cinematic idea.” — Alfred Hitchcock

Mr. Hitchcock has an excellent point: “Rear Window,” released in 1954 and starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, is a sublimely told tale that can be viewed on multiple levels. Its suspense, wit, sexuality, and mature themes make it one of Hitch’s greatest and most satisfying films.

Based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich and featuring a sparkling screenplay by John Michael Hayes, “Rear Window” is the story of L.B. Jeffries (Stewart) a photographer and man of action who’s stuck in his New York apartment during a summer heat wave, thanks to a broken leg. His entire world has been reduced to what he can see across his courtyard, a narrow view that’s like a camera’s viewfinder. Bored as he is, he’s gotten to know his neighbors in a strange way: by watching their comings and goings, he’s learned about their lives. From his wheelchair, Jeffries can see a desperately lonely woman; a energetic dancer; a struggling composer; an abstract artist; a middle-aged couple; and a traveling salesman with a nagging, sickly wife.

Jeffries is kept company by a visiting nurse, played with frank wit by Thelma Ritter, and his girfriend, Lisa Fremont (Kelly), who works at a fashion magazine. While they seem to love each other, Jeffries keeps her at arm’s length, claiming that his whirlwind lifestyle would clash too much with her world of cocktail parties and glamor. Even their accents keep them apart; he sounds down-home, while she has an educated, upper class accent.

On a sweltering night, Jeffries is awakened from a restless sleep in his wheelchair by a scream. Looking across the courtyard, he thinks he sees some activity from the salesman’s apartment. Has the salesman done something to his wife? Jeffries realizes that the wife seems to have disappeared, while the salesman himself is acting suspiciously: leaving the apartment over and over in the middle of the night, making strange phone calls, bringing in contractors to paint the apartment and more. Using binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens, Jeffries tries to gather evidence. He talks it over with a friend from the police force, who says there isn’t enough evidence to act on.

Fremont, too, is skeptical, arguing that Jeffries is merely bored and imagining things, until, in mid-sentence, she looks out and sees the salesman tying up a huge trunk with heavy rope. Suddenly, the conversation is no longer about Jeffries; it’s about the salesman. That turn of attention, in which Grace Kelly stops acting like an annoyed girlfriend and begins acting like a witness to a crime, is one of the great moments of the movie.

Together, she and the nurse carry out Jeffries’ legwork. When a dog that had been digging in the salesman’s garden turns up strangled, the two women dig up the garden themselves. Finding nothing there, Fremont breaks into the salesman’s empty apartment; there, she finds the wife’s wedding ring, but does not manage to escape before the salesman returns. Watching the action from across the courtyard and unable to do anything, Jeffries sends the police to the apartment. They arrest Fremont, but not before she signals Jeffries. Unfortunately, the salesman sees the signal and, in a truly chilling moment, looks directly into Jeffries’ apartment.

Jeffries now feels he has enough evidence against Thorwald, so he makes a call to his police friend, but with the nurse off to bail out Fremont, Jeffries is alone in the dark when he hears the heavy footsteps of the salesman, Lars Thorwald, approaching. Thorwald breaks in, and Jeffries slows his approach by briefly blinding him with flashbulbs, but Thorwald reaches him at last. He attempts to strangle the photographer and, as the police arrive, hangs Jeffries out the window in an attempt to kill him. Jeffries falls into the courtyard – and out of the frame through which he’s watched so much – as the police grab Thorwald.

In the end, the small world of the courtyard is once again at peace; the couple with the dog have a new pet; the lonely woman has met the composer. Fremont sits near Jeffries, now nursing a second broken leg; for the first time, she’s wearing something simple, jeans and a blouse, rather than a gown. The adventure has brought them together. Jeffries has seen that she is tougher than he ever realized, and she is now convinced of his commitment to their relationship.

One of the hallmarks of “Rear Window” is Hitchcock’s manipulation of sound. Snatches of conversations are heard from across the courtyard, along with pop music, parties, arguments and traffic from the street beyond. The sound contributes to the movie’s overall theme of alienation; as is typical in New York City, the apartment dwellers barely seem to know each other. The movie was shot in Hollywood on an elaborately designed set. Hitchcock loved to know the spaces he would be working in, and few of his movies have a more well thought out space than this one. The lighting of the courtyard, which is seen at all times of day and night, help to bring it to life; as in so many of Hitch’s films, the setting is a character in the story. Shot in widescreen, the apartments and buildings divide and subdivide the screen into cubicle-like spaces.

From the start, the viewer is plugged into Jeffries’ voyeuristic view of the courtyard dwellers. Although we see less of the stories that don’t involve murder, we do get caught up in the loneliness and desperation of the dancer, the spinster and the composer. Each of their mini-stories has its own neat conclusion, like the end of a Shakespearean comedy, with everyone paired off.

Aside from the stars, Stewart and Kelly, the rest of the cast is a pleasure as well. Raymond Burr glowers and storms through the set as Thorwald; Thelma Ritter blurts out the things audiences didn’t want to imagine, like where Thorwald cut up the body. The other notable name in the cast is Ross Bagdasarian, who plays the composer; he previously co-wrote the hit song “Come On-a My House,” and would go on to fame as David Seville, cartoon impresario behind The Chipmunks. In an early scene, Alfred Hitchcock can be seen visiting the composer in his apartment.

There’s a new maturity to “Rear Window” that had only been hinted at in earlier Hitchcock films. While the murder is the central issue, the subtext is marriage and relationships, from Jeffries and Fremont’s to the killer and his victim, with side trips including the lonely woman and the composer, a newlywed couple, and even the dancer, who seems to be courting as many men as she can get away with, but is in fact waiting for the return of her husband from the army at the end of the film. Credit for this emotional core to the story must go to John Michael Hayes, who gave the script great depth and believability. This was Hayes’ first movie with Hitchcock; he would write three more for the director in the next two years, during an exceptionally productive point in Hitchcock’s career.

Here’s the trailer for “Rear Window,” although it seems to be from a rerelease, as it mentions “Psycho.”

Next, Grace Kelly makes her final film for Hitchcock, teaming up with Cary Grant for the ultra-glamorous “To Catch a Thief.”

Alfred Hitchcock on “What’s My Line?”

13 03 2010

Alfred Hitchcock shows off his cheeky wit in this funny appearance on the very popular game show “What’s My Line?”

The clip is almost certainly from 1954, given the fact that “Rear Window” is playing on theaters near Broadway at the time.

Of course, even though he puts on a silly French accent, it doesn’t take too long for the panelists to figure out who Hitch is. I love Dorothy Kilgallen’s very odd question about Harry’s Bar; I also loved Hitch’s mock disdain for Biblical epics, and his self-deprecating answer to the question about his movie cameos.


This post is not only a small treat for a Saturday afternoon. It’s also my chance to show off the updated look on my Hitchblog, with new art at the top and buttons on the right that will take you to my Facebook and Twitter pages. Please leave me a comment if you like the new look!

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