Top 250 Tuesday: #053 – Rear Window (1954)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #054 on the list, Alfred Hitchcocks Rear Window. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

alfred_hitchcock_rear_window_movie_poster_2aIt’s a question anybody who writes or talks about movies a lot eventually has to face: What’s your favorite movie of all time? Of course, a lot of times, this question is followed by a lot of hemming and hawing and discussion about whether you’re talking about favorite movies or movies that we consider to be “the best”, discussion about mainstream films versus arthouse versus genre, talk about how one’s perspective of movies and favorites can change over time, discussion of “guilty pleasures”, etc. But really, all of those discussions are designed to do simply one thing: to avoid really giving a quick, definitive answer.

Lately, however, I’ve decided to forego all the delay, and simply throw out the answer “Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.”

Yeah, I’ll be the first to admit that there are certainly “better” movies. If you pushed me, I might even admit that there are better Hitchcock movies. But when it comes down to those intangibles that make a movie one’s “favorite” – things like rewatchability, enjoyability, all those factors that simply make you smile whenever you think about watching an old favorite and anticipate having an excuse to watch it again, well, for me, it all comes down to this film.

title_rear_window_blu-ray_First of all, there’s the setting, where Hitch manages to give us an entire world in one simple set-up. In a simple bit of economic storytelling, rather than giving us the kind of ’round the world chase that we see in, say North By Northwest, by confining the entirety of the film to what James Stewart‘s Jeff Jeffries can see from the window of his apartment, the master manages to give the film a sense of confinement, of near claustrophobia, while at the same time allowing for a variety of characters that keeps that single-set feeling from becoming overwhelming, as it does in something like Rope.

This also leads to the second point, which in a way echoes the first. By confining Jeffries to a wheelchair while he recovers from injuries he received prior to the film’s start, Hitchcock subverts the usual, expected role of Jeffries as the “hero” who is going to swoop in and save the day, or at least is going to be the one to do most of the “legwork” and eventually save Grace Kelly‘s damsel in distress, and turns those tropes on their ears. Instead it is Kelly and the largely under-praised Thelma Ritter who must assay those roles and go beyond the expected stereotypes.

rear_windowThis, of course, brings us to Kelly herself, who in my mind has never looked better on screen than she does here. Not only is she both strong and gorgeous, but then we get to that kiss and… well, let’s just say it never fails to make me a jealous man.

Then there is the central mystery of the film. Actually, as is often the case with Hitchcok’s movies, there are two mysteries, and the first is whether there even is a mystery to start with. This is an idea that Hitchcock plays with many times in his career, going back at least as far as 1938’s The Lady Vanishes. Because we as the audience almost always see the goings-on totally from Jeffries’ perspective, and he never actually witnesses the supposed crime, we are left, until the climax, to wonder just exactly what has happened, and whether the photographer’s obviously active imagination and bent for story telling has simply gotten the best of him and are leading both him, and the audience, on a wild goose chase.

Of course, I could bang on and on about all of the things that make this such a great film, I could talk about the voyeurism of the movie, the use of mostly diegetic sound rather than a full on score, I could pick apart the various aspects of Hitchcock’s camera work that show that at this point in his career he is a true master who has complete control over every aspect of the film and is totally at the top of his game here.

Sure, I could do all of that, but when it comes down to it, all that I really need to tell you about how I feel about this move is what I said at the top. Nowadays, whenever anybody asks me for my favorite film, the one that rally encapsulates the movie-going experience for me, I simply say “Rear Window”. And that’s all that I need to say.

So what are your thoughts on Rear Window? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.

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