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I Know What You Did That Summer: Rear Window (1954)

Review Copyright Roger Zotti, 2000


RearWin

Freelance photojournalist L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries is wheelchair-bound with a broken leg. Bored and restricted to his small, Greenwich Village apartment, the temperature a sweltering 94 degrees, he passes the hours by spying on his neighbors in their apartments across the courtyard.

Enter Jeff's high society girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), who wants to marry him, but Jeff believes they come from two incompatible worlds.

After being awakened one night by a scream from one of the apartments, Jeff begins to suspect a murder has been committed. The prime suspect is a husky salesman named Lars Thorwald (a sinister Raymond Burr). But the evidence against Thorwald is so meager that neither Lisa nor Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), Jeff's detective friend, believe him. With grudging assistance from Lisa and Stella (Thelma Ritter), his visiting nurse, Jeff goes about proving Thorwald's guilt.

Brace yourself for a thrilling finale and those popping flashbulbs.

///

Hitchcock has fun teasing his audience and in this movie he does so by making us accomplices to Jeff's and Lisa's voyeurism.

If Jeff had not observed Thorwald, a murderer would have gone free.

But consider this, and this is where Hitchcock has fun with his audience: At one point, Jeff and Lisa are disappointed to learn that Thorwald may not have murdered his wife. After taking stock of the situation, Lisa is prompted to say: "...look at you and me, plunged into despair because we find out a man didn't kill his wife. We're two of the most frightening ghouls I've ever known."

And if we as viewers go along with Jeff and Lisa's disappointment, we're as ghoulish as they are. More, if we enjoy spying with Jeff on his neighbors, learning about their frustrations and hopes, about their heartaches and innermost secrets, we're as ghoulish as he is.

///

Rear Window contains fine acting from Stewart and the elegant Kelly. Thelma Ritter's turn as Stella is pure gold. Watch, too, Burr's effective performance as the menacing Thorwald.

Regarding Ritter, Linda Yablonsky writes that she was the archetypal female sidekick: the woman's Walte Brennan, the urban Gabby Hayes... Whether they called her Birdie, Stella, Mo, or Alma, her basic personality remained unchanged. We knew her type and we had a name for it: Thelma Ritter. She was the perfect partner... Her voice, a nasal, Brooklyn-born rasp made for the delivery of the acerbic barb, has been an inspiration.

Thus it's only fitting that Ritter's Stella utters one of the film's most important lines. After observing Jeff spying on his neighbors, she says, "We've become a race of peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own houses and look in for a change."

///

Robin Wood wrote that "Rear Window is perhaps the first of Hitchcock's film to which the term masterpiece can be applied"; and Entertainment Weekly noted that the film "may be Hitchcock's best-crafted movie."


Rear Window

    Cast:
    L.B. Jeffries.....James Stewart
    Lisa Fremont.....Grace Kelly
    Stella.....Thelma Ritter
    Tom Doyle.....Wendell Corey
    Lars Thorwald.....Raymond Burr
    Sc: John Michael Hayes. DP: Robert Burks
    M: Franz Waxman. Ed: George Tomasini


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