A tight suspense show is offered in “Rear Window,” one of Alfred Hitchcock’s better thrillers. James Stewart’s established star value, plus the newer potentiality of Grace Kelly, currently getting a big buildup, and strong word-of-mouth possibilities indicate sturdy grossing chances in the keys and elsewhere.
Hitchcock combines technical and artistic skills in a manner that makes this an unusually good piece of murder mystery entertainment. A sound story by Cornell Woolrich and a cleverly dialoged screenplay by John Michael Hayes provide the producer-director with a solid basis for thrill-making. Of equal importance in delivering tense melodrama are the Technicolor camera work by Robert Burks and the apartment-courtyard setting executed by Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan Johnson.
Hitchcock confines all of the action to this single setting and draws the nerves to the snapping point in developing the thriller phases of the plot. He is just as skilled in making use of lighter touches in either dialog or situation to relieve the tension when it nears the unbearable. Interest never wavers during the 112 minutes of footage.
Stewart portrays a news photographer confined to his apartment with a broken leg. He passes the long hours by playing peeping-tom on the people who live in the other apartments overlooking the courtyard. It’s a hot, humid summer so shades are rarely drawn to block his view of intimate goings-on. In one of the apartments occupied by Raymond Burr and his invalid, shrewish wife Stewart observes things that lead him to believe Burr has murdered and dismembered the wife.
From then on suspense tightens as Stewart tries to convince Wendell Corey, a policeman buddy, his suspicions are correct. Already sold on the idea are Miss Kelly, Stewart’s girl, and Thelma Ritter, the insurance nurse who comes daily to tend his needs. With their help, Stewart eventually is able to prove his point, and almost gets himself killed doing it. Adding to the grip the melodrama has on the audience is the fact that virtually every scene is one that could only be viewed from Stewart’s wheelchair, with the other apartment dwellers seen in pantomime action through the photog’s binoculars or the telescopic lens from his camera.
There’s a very earthy quality to the relationship between Stewart and Miss Kelly. She’s a Park Avenue girl not above using her physical charms to convince Stewart they should get married. This is carried to the point where she arrives one evening set to spend the night and gives him what she calmly calls “a preview of coming attractions” by donning frilly nightgown and negligee. Both do a fine job of the picture’s acting demands.
Types that one might find in a Greenwich Village apartment add interest. Miss Torso, roundly played by Georgine Darcy, is a peeping-tom delight, particularly when she loses her strapless bra. There is a great sadness to Miss Lonely Hearts, played by Judith Evelyn, a woman with an overwhelming desire for a man, yet not knowing what to do when she coaxes one in from the streets. There’s a honeymoon joke in the actions of newlyweds Rand Harper and Haris Davenport. He’s seen raising the shade at intervals only to be called back to her arms by the bride. Ross Bagdasarian, a composer; Sara Berner and Frank Cady, a couple with a little dog, and the other types glimpsed all seem like real people, and their soundless contributions give the principles top-notch support. Burr is very good as the menace, as are Corey and Miss Ritter.
The production makes clever use of natural sounds and noises throughout, with not even the good score by Franz Waxman being permitted to intrude unnaturally into the drama.
1954: Nominations: Best Director, Screenplay, Color Cinematography, Sound.