Ranked 96 on the IMDB Top 100 Movies. Watched August 2017.
Cast: James Stewart (L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies), Grace Kelly (Lisa Carol Fremont), Wendell Corey (Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle), Thelma Ritter (Stella), Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 8 / 10
A wheelchair-bound photographer (Jeff – played by James Stewart) spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.
What’s to Like
The lived in feel of the sets which Hitchcock had built, moving from comedy to high tension as the movie gets going. Being trapped with the point of view of the wheelchair bound protagonist for the entire movie adds to the mystery of what has happened.
What’s not to Like
It’s very hard to believe anyone could ignore the beautiful Grace Kelly (Lisa) just to watch their neighbours. If she wanted her boyfriend’s attention and commitment almost 99% of eligible males would give her their full attention.
The movie starts with Jeff (James Stewart), a photojournalist, confined to a wheelchair after breaking his leg shooting a car race. Recuperating in his Greenwich apartment and getting occasional visits from his stunning model-girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and a nagging nurse. Jeff is so bored that the rear window of his apartment is used to spy on his neighbours across the courtyard. At first this starts out as being funny observations but paranoia sets in when he suspects a neighbour has killed his wife.
This occurs when one night Jeff hears a woman scream “Don’t!” and then the sound of breaking glass, later he witnesses Thorwald (Raymond Burr) leaving his apartment and then making repeated late-night trips carrying his sample case. Putting this together with Thorwald”s wife no longer being around and spying Thorwald cleaning a large knife and handsaw Jeff is drawn into the mystery.
Throughout the movie you see Jeff ignoring his girlfriend Lisa and nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) in order to spy and speculate and live other people’s lives. He even puts Lisa in extreme danger when she investigates the Thorwald’s apartment for clues. In this scene both Jeff and the viewer can see danger approaching with Thorwald but we, and Jeff, cannot move, cannot sound the alarm as we watch events unfold instead of being part of them just like Jeff lives his life as a photographer looking in from this outside.
Eventually Jeff pays the price of his spying as Thorwald realises what his neighbour has been doing and attempts to kill him in a confrontation that Jeff barely survives and ends up with two broken legs.
This is a tightly focused movie, bringing up questions of voyeurism and living your life as a witness not a participant. using the point of view of the main character makes us feel more like him, we are after all watching the (made up) lives of another person just like Jeff is watching his neighbours.
The tension in this movie is great, you know mid-way into the movie that Thorwald has likely killed his wife but will it be proved and will Jeff’s spying be found out. Building real apartments for the sets makes it feel like a real life drama. There is something about most Hitchcock films that demand your full attention.
Ultimately life in the movie goes on for everyone with many not knowing what their neighbours have been doing, just like real life.
- Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock) – nominee
- Best Writing, Screenplay (John Michael Hayes) – nominee
- Best Cinematography, Colour (Robert Burks) – nominee
- Best Sound, Recording (Loren L. Ryder) – nominee
Thanks, Nathan for a thoughtful and well-written review of this Hitchcock classic. I agree that it seems almost impossible that Jeff could ignore Lisa played beautifully played by the breathtaking Miss Kelly. One theory could be that Jeff is long used to the faithful Lisa putting up with his ignoring her to do what he wants when he wants. This is one of those films that I’ll watch almost anytime it comes on. You can catch my blog at: maxmcmanus.com.