‘Rear Window’: THR’s 1954 Review

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On August 4, 1954, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Rear Window, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, was unveiled in New York at the Rivoli Theatre. The Paramount feature went on to nab four Oscar nominations at the 27th Academy Awards, including for directing. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:

It is easy to review Rear Window for exhibitors. They should buy it and play it. They will make money with it and their audiences will be pleased by it, for, in addition to the Hitchcock mastery of suspense, it contains some very diverting comedy, an intriguing love story and a beautiful and practical female wardrobe created by Edith Head.

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To review this film for Mr. Hitchcock’s fellow craftsmen in the motion picture industry is a little more than difficult. Years ago, he became master of telling the suspense story. But he’s never been one to recline on his laurels. In every script he sets himself new and difficult directorial problems and solves them with an ingenuity that never fails to put something fresh on the screen. In Rear Window, Jimmy Stewart has the role of a news photographer confined by a broken leg to a wheelchair. The situation anchors him in one small room and, almost throughout the film, the camera confines itself to his point of view. The invalid whiles away his boredom by spying on neighbors whose windows look out upon a common group of backyards. They include “Miss Torso,” a shapely show girl who practices in her underwear; a middle-aged salesman with an ailing, complaining wife; “Miss Lonely Heart,” an unhappy professional woman, and a number of prosaic but interesting characters.

As Stewart watches, a number of little things convince him that a murder has occurred in one of the apartments. At first he can convince neither his girlfriend (Grace Kelly), his nurse (Thelma Ritter) nor a detective friend (Wendell Corey). Finally, he gets the women on his side and gradually there builds up a tense, perilous and suspenseful struggle between the helpless photographer and the killer he has viewed only from a distance.

To progress his story and give it variety, Hitchcock has devised one of the most impressive sets in recent Hollywood history. And Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan Johnson have executed it magnificently. All the activities of a New York street are realistically viewed through a narrow alley. Varied life stories, pathetic, amusing and shocking are told by the glimpses through windows. Many of these are told in silent technique with only an occasional significant word or phrase drifting across the courtyard to the spectators. (The sound recording by Harry Lindgren and John Cope is a vital part of the picture’s style of story-telling.) Though most of the background action is told in longshots, Hitchcock has occasional need for two-shots and closeups. He gets these, very logically, by having his hero view his neighbors sometimes through binoculars and sometimes through the high-powered long distance lens of a still camera. Throughout the film, Hitchcock maintains a half-comic mood of spying and eavesdropping that makes the audience feel it is indulging in one of the most persistent of human foibles. The laughs are almost continuous.

Rear Window is one of the directional masterpieces of recent years. To keep it from being cold and technical, Hitchcock adds to it the warmest love story he’s ever placed on the screen. Here he capitalizes on the charm, beauty and acting powers of Grace Kelly. She appears as a wealthy and successful young woman, desperately in love with the adventurous and footloose photographer, who is afraid that marriage will tie him down. Intelligent, sophisticated, sweet and, at the same time, sexy, Miss Kelly plays the role with a yearning wistfulness that carries a bitter-sweet feeling of delightful longing to the audience. She makes you feel you are in love as you watch her. Even the sound of her kisses is haunting. Only the greatest stars have been able to achieve the sense of emotional spectator participation that radiates from this remarkable girl.

In addition to revealing a new capacity for tenderness, the director shows an unsuspected flair for wise cracking comedy, particularly in the scenes where Miss Ritter and Corey make expert use of the bright dialogue in John Michael Hayes’ screenplay. Stewart is quite wonderful as the factor that holds all these elements together. Whether he is struggling to scratch an itching toe or writhing in the hands of a brutal killer, he at all times is an interesting and lovable human being a regular guy you are rooting for. It’s an entirely satisfying and entirely unusual movie. — Jack Moffitt, originally published on July 13, 1954.

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