Wednesday, June 25, 2008

CS Presents: Rear Window

I decided to undertake something only slightly less harrowing and much more enjoyable than studying for the bar exam this summer: watching as many Alfred Hitchcock movies as I could get my hands on via my Blockbuster subscription. I will review the movies after I watch them as a way of actually posting here. I grade each movie simply on how much I liked it in relation to the others. SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to know what happens in a movie, then don't read my reviews. There will be no SPOILER ALERTs within the reviews.

Rear Window (1954)

If you ever want to know why you should never consent to be interviewed by the police, watch Rear Window. It sounds like an odd statement to connect that with this movie. After all, the main law enforcement character, Doyle, is on Thorwald's side for almost the entire film.

Jeffries has his theory of what happened and everything that follows -- which has both an innocent and sinister explanation -- is formatted to fit his theory. Doyle is unconvinced and always opts for the innocent explanation. He's a detective, he's heard 1,001 crazy theories in his career and this is just another one. When you are interviewed by the police as a suspect, regardless of whether or not you actually did it, the police probably have a working theory of what happened. Whatever details you give them, they will simply try to fit into their theory and they'll discard the evidence that doesn't quite fit. This doesn't make them evil or stupid. Simply human. Unless you can show them the elephant in the room -- the incontrovertible evidence that smashes their theory to bits -- they will continue to try to make it work.

Much has been written about the ethics of voyeurism and how the film treats marriage. Both are interesting subjects and I noticed both during the film, especially how the newlyweds' relationship inversely tracked with Jeffries and Lisa's relationship. The most interesting part to me was the innocent vs. sinister aspects of Thorwald's actions. For a man whose speaking parts are minimal during the movie -- I suspect we hear his voice about as often as the newlywed husband -- Raymond Burr did a masterful job of acting. His facial expressions and actions had to be transparent enough that we could jump to the same conclusions that Jeffries did, yet inscrutable enough that they could seemingly be innocent.

I can see why Rear Window is one of the most heralded Hitchcock films. In the special features of the DVD version, someone mentions that Hitchcock would focus on a scene on his way into work and run it through his mind, thinking of all the different ways he could shoot it. The preparation and creativity are obvious. The many side stories, like Miss Lonelyhearts, The Composer, The Torso, The Newlyweds, etc., were Hitchcock's creation. Jimmy Stewart did a masterful job. So much of the film was him looking at something, us seeing that something and then Stewart's reaction and those three shots needed to advance the plot and tell us exactly what Jeffries was thinking, often times without uttering a word.

But the final scene nags at me a bit. The tension was masterfully built for Thorwald's entrance and having Jeffries keep him at bay with flashbulbs was genius, especially as we essentially saw the scene from Thorwald's point of view, complete with the after-effects of the flash. The payoff seemed so weak. Yeah. he's the murderer. He chopped her up. As I watched it, I pretty well suspected that. To me, the tension didn’t center around whether Thorwald did it as much as it revolved around whether Jeffries could prove Thorwald did. I was more curious of the how and the why than finding out if, because I assumed Torvald had murdered his wife. I wish there had been some kind of payoff and twist at that moment. The film didn't treat the question of if he did it as a real question; the film was more about how Jeffries would get around those obstacles than treating them as plausible alternative explanations. It seems dishonest to make the payoff what we assumed was happening to begin with.

Grade: A-
Up Next: Lifeboat
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