Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece, Rear Window, is widely regarded by critics as one of the greatest films ever made. It is a suspenseful thriller that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats from start to finish.
Hitchcock was renowned for creating suspenseful and shocking tales that capitalised on an audience’s willingness to experience fear in the confines of a darkened theatre.
This was the film that turned Hitchcock into a superstar and dubbed him ‘the master of suspense’ thanks to his innovative cinematic style with incredible plot twists and the ability to make characters larger than life keeping the audience on the edge of their seasts
But, what is it about Rear Window that made it such a breakthrough film for Hitchcock?
But, it was Rear Window that paved the way for future Hitchcock classics such as Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963) and transformed him into a titanic public figure, popular entertainer, and a true artist.
A simple concept
At the heart of the film is a simple yet ingenious concept: a man named L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is confined to his apartment due to a broken leg and spends his days watching his neighbours across the courtyard from his rear window.
It’s a premise that could’ve easily become dull or repetitive, but Hitchcock masterfully keeps the tension and suspense building throughout the film.
By using L.B. Jefferies’ point of view to frame the story, the audience becomes just as invested in his observations as he is.
We feel the same sense of curiosity, suspicion, and dread as L.B. pieces together the mysterious events he witnesses from afar.
The darker side of the human psyche
One of the most striking aspects of Rear Window is the way it explores the darker side of psychological storytelling.
Hitchcock was known for his fascination with psychology and the darker side of human nature. In this film, he delves into the idea of observing others without their knowledge or consent.
By positioning the audience as accomplices to L.B.’s spying, Hitchcock forces us to confront our own dark-minded tendencies and the moral implications of watching others without their awareness.
This subtle commentary on the nature of cinema itself has become one of the hallmarks of Hitchcock’s work.
Rear Window is not just a commentary on the darker side of human nature and psychology; it’s also a masterclass in cinematic storytelling.
Hitchcock employs a range of visual techniques to keep the audience engaged and to convey information without relying on dialogue.
Hitchcock’s use of different camera angles and framing devices helps show us what L.B. is seeing and is used to highlight important details.
We see close-ups of the characters’ faces, glimpses of their possessions, and even the reflection of the action in L.B.’s binoculars.
By giving the audience just enough information to piece together the mystery ourselves, Hitchcock keeps us actively engaged in the story.
Ingenious set design
Another reason why Rear Window is so groundbreaking is its use of setting.
Hitchcock was known for his meticulous attention to detail, and this is clearly evident throughout the film.
Every shot is carefully composed to convey a specific mood or feeling, even the film’s set design is notable with each of L.B’s neighbours showcasing their distinct personalities reflected in their apartment decor.
This attention to detail adds to the overall realism of the film, making the audience feel like they are truly observing these characters in their natural habitat.
Gripping performances by the legendary cast
The performances by the star-studded cast are also noteworthy.
James Stewart is superb as L.B. Jefferies, a man whose curiosity and impatience sometimes get the better of him. He is brilliant and charismatic, but also flawed and vulnerable.
Grace Kelly is equally captivating as Lisa, L.B.’s sophisticated girlfriend who proves to be resourceful and brave in the face of danger.
Thelma Ritter, who plays L.B.’s nurse is also fantastic, providing some much-needed comic relief in an otherwise tense film.
Even the supporting characters, such as the bickering couple across the courtyard and the lonely songwriter, are memorable and well-drawn. The chemistry between the actors is palpable, making the audience invested in their fates.
The unforgettable climax
Of course, no discussion of Rear Window would be complete without mentioning the film’s memorable climax.
After a slow burn of tension and suspicion, the final confrontation between L.B. and the suspected killer is a masterful example of suspenseful filmmaking.
Hitchcock builds the tension with a series of close-ups and tight shots, as well as his brilliant use of sound and music.
The scene is both thrilling and terrifying, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats until the very end.
But perhaps the most important reason why Rear Window put Hitchcock on the map is that it showcases his unique directorial vision.
Hitchcock was known for his ability to take seemingly mundane situations and turn them into thrilling cinematic experiences.
In Rear Window he does just that, taking the simple act of observing one’s neighbours and turning it into a suspenseful and thrilling story.
Photo by Dion Stergiopoulos