“You Don’t Know the Meaning of the Word ‘Neighbors!’”
Remembering Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW
Few directors have left behind the legacy that Alfred Hitchcock did. Whether it’s remembering his remarkable contributions to film or reveling in stories of his “unconventional” means of getting the absolute best from his actors (Tippi Hedren still has some truly awful things to say about her experiences working with him). Hitchcock’s mark on the cinema seems to remain indelible regardless of the amount of time that’s passed.
His career spanned close to seven decades. Getting his start as a title card designer for the American-owned London branch of what would soon become Paramount Pictures and within five years he found his way into the director’s chair.
Hitchcock’s career blossomed at an integral time in film history. As a young filmmaker, he gained experience working with some of the biggest names in the silent film industry: F.W. Murnau, Graham Cutts, and Fritz Lang doing everything from production assistant work to assistant directing. He watched cinema blossom in a way very few had the opportunity to.
Eventually, in 1922, he received his first big break.
He began working on the film NUMBER 13; a story about a young couple living in a low-income housing complex for needy Londoners. Unfortunately, the film was never completed due to budgetary concerns and several of his earlier films met the same fate.
Regardless, he’d begun to gain a reputation for being a master of his craft and his career, very early on, had nowhere to go but up.
In 1927, his luck changed. He released his first thriller, THE LODGER: A STORY OF THE LONDON FOG. THE LODGET was a huge commercial success, garnering rave reviews from critics and moviegoers alike. Telling the harrowing story of the hunt for a Jack the Ripper-type serial killer in London, THE LODGER enthralled and terrified and made the young Hitchcock a household name.
And the rest is history.
Ask any film geek what Hitchcock’s best film was and you’re likely to get several different responses. Ask “What’s your favorite Hitchcock film?” and you’ll get a similar reaction. His catalogue resonates differently with different people, but one thing remains regardless – everyone has a favorite Hitchcock film. Everyone holds one (or more) of his films in high enough regard to consider it “the best.”
ROPE, PSYCHO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, MARNIE, THE BIRDS, DIAL M FOR MURDER, BLACKMAIL, THE 39 STEPS, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, THE LADY VANISHES… I could go on and on. The films above are just a small piece of what I consider to be his finest cinematic achievements. Each of them prove that Hitchcock was a force to be reckoned with in one way or another.
Calling him groundbreaking would be a severe understatement. The ground he was walking on hadn’t even been fully paved before he started shattering barriers. If it weren’t for Hitchcock, we wouldn’t even have modern cinematography. If it weren’t for Hitchcock, the sheer concept of 3D filmmaking would still be foreign to us (which, might actually be more of a blessing than anything else. I’m looking at you, Michael Bay). If it weren’t for Hitchcock, horror (and its various intermingling genres) wouldn’t be as diverse, intriguing, or as brilliant as they are today.
It’s absolutely impossible to refute that.
62 years ago today, Hitchcock released what has come to be known, universally, as one of his most prolific and “important” films: REAR WINDOW.
**HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD**
For most these spoilers won’t be spoilers at all as I’m sure most horror/thriller/film fans have seen at least part of REAR WINDOW; whether accidentally or on purpose.
REAR WINDOW has become such a pop culture staple that everyone from THE SIMPSONS to THAT 70’s SHOW, to THE FLINSTONES has given homage to the suspense classic in some way or The protagonist, trapped inside with their thoughts and a broken leg, does their best to make the most of their time and begins surveying the world around them (most often their neighbors) only to witness something they perceive to be heinous taking place.
It’s a classic trope at this point. The “heinous” goings on often turn out to be nothing more than a huge misunderstanding (i.e. Bob “murdering” Midge on THAT ‘70’s SHOW; she was actually out of town) and the characters involved end up having a huge laugh in the end.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go the same way for Mr. Jeffries.
REAR WINDOW tells the story of L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart), an adventurous professional photographer who finds himself wheelchair bound in his Greenwich Village apartment after photographing a racetrack accident. His rear window looks out onto a courtyard and several other apartments. During a blistering heatwave, Jeffries takes to watching his neighbors to help him pass the time: a dancer, several married couples, a divorcee, a sculptor, and Mr. Lars Thorwald; a traveling jewelry salesman with a bedridden wife.
His girlfriend, a sophisticated and beautiful socialite (Grace Kelly) named Lisa visits him regularly to see how he’s recuperating; along with the insurance companies’ nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter)
One night after during a powerful thunderstorm, he hears a woman scream “Don’t!” followed by the sound of breaking glass. Later, he is awakened by the thunder and sees Thorwald leaving his apartment. Throughout the evening, he makes several trips back and forth to his apartment; each time carrying with him his sample case.
The next morning, Jeff notices that Thorwald’s wife is mysteriously gone and sees him cleaning a large knife and handsaw in the kitchen. Later, he’s witnessed tying heavy rope around a large trunk and having several movers take it away. Understandably, this piques Jeff’s interest and rouses the most heinous of suspicions.
The plot thickens.
It doesn’t matter how many times I watch REAR WINDOW; I love it the same as I did the first time. There’s something about it that, even after the 30 th viewing, still rouses legitimate Because of that, I’m not going to spoil all of the devilish details for you; that’s not my job.
Taking the time to relish the ups and downs that Hitchcock provided for us, the viewers, is only fair. He put them there for a reason; it’d be an insult for us not to enjoy them.
So today – we pay homage to the reining “Master of Suspense.” We remember REAR WINDOW
62 years later for making all of us just a little more aware of the goings on around us; to listen to the cries in the dark, to do our part (as neighbors) to always ask the burning questions.
To trust no one.
With that, it’s time to settle into our wheelchair – it’s going to be seven more days until we get this damned cast off anyway– and do a little bit of people watching.
However, remember to be careful, you never know who might be watching back.
Follow Ian Donegan on Twitter @ianjdonegan