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New Discoveries in Rear Window (1954)

Letterboxd tells me that last night’s viewing of Rear Window (1954) was my fourth watch, but it’s probably closer to 10 or 12. Regardless of the number, I’ve seen the film enough times to know exactly what’s going to happen next, the next line, who’s going to say it, and how the other character(s) will respond. Rear Window is one of those movies that’s so familiar, not only can you watch it over and over, you can also discover something new with each viewing.


One of the things I noticed was movement, not only the motion of the characters across the way going about their daily lives (and the brilliant way Hitchcock choreographs them), but the movement in Jeff’s (James Stewart) apartment. It’s a confined space, which obviously adds to the tension, yet during at least two arguments with Lisa (Grace Kelly), Jeff expertly maneuvers his wheelchair so that he’s able to come as close to her as possible, making his points about what he believes is a murder that’s occurred in the neighborhood. It’s an instinctive move, and even in a wheelchair Jeff knows how to quickly get to Lisa and get his point across. Had he been able to stand, he would’ve towered above her. Instead, as he’s seated, she towers above him and consistently bests him. Not only this, she has the freedom of movement he lacks.

That freedom of movement also imprisons Jeff. Lisa can move freely about the apartment, getting the door for the delivery man from 21, warming up their dinner, turning on the lights, and using her body language in a variety of ways. Yet during most of the conversations concerning the future of their relationship, they are mostly on equal footing (or equal sitting, as the case may be). They are more or less at eye level with some distance between them, each making their case: she to gain acceptance into his life, he to end their relationship knowing that neither of them will ever fit into the other’s world. Hitchcock imposed so many spacial limitations upon himself and his characters, yet they all work brilliantly.

I also never noticed how difficult it is for Jeff to move about the apartment when it becomes clear that Thorwald is coming for him. There are only so many places a wheelchair can go in an apartment, and few of them make for good hiding places. The ease with which Jeff rushes to Lisa for his verbal combats are useless here. He’s never had to try and hide in his own apartment, at least not in a wheelchair. Jeff is reduced to trying to find the darkest possible corner of the dwelling in the scant time he has before the door opens. Although I’ve seen the movie several times, my anxiety level was off the charts, worrying that Jeff wouldn’t find those shadowy areas in time.

Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy)

Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn)

I also noticed three close-ups (actually medium shots that feel like close-ups) of two women (other than Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter). These two close-ups (not seen through Jeff’s zoom lens or binoculars) happen very quickly with two of them occurring after the discovery of the dead dog: close-ups of Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy) and Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn). This is Hitchcock’s way of showing us that these are real people with real feelings, not just movable chess pieces in an ensemble of supporting players. Significantly they are also women dealing with real problems: Miss Torso “juggling wolves,” and Miss Lonelyhearts battling depression. (We also see a very quick close-up of Miss Lonelyhearts near the end of the film during Jeff’s struggle with Thorwald. I’d never noticed it before.)

Yet one aspect of the film had never struck me until last night. It had been obvious all the time, hiding in plain sight: Grace Kelly’s voice. Not just her voice, but her delivery, register, volume, and speed. The next time you watch Rear Window, pay close attention to her mood and how her voice matches it, especially in transitions from sweetness to confusion to anger to inquisitiveness. It’s a tremendous performance in vocal range.

I’m fortunate to live so close to a theater (Landmark Harbour Center in Annapolis, MD), which will continue Hitchcock month with the following films. Maybe I’ll see you there? (All Tuesdays at 7:30pm)

August 15 - The 39 Steps

August 22 - Rope

August 29 - The Lady Vanishes

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