Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mystery #3 - Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window is another Alfred Hitchcock movie, starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. In it, Jimmy Stewart is laid up with a broken leg, and has started spying on his neighbors out of the rear window of his apartment. Part of the movie is about his neighbors - their lives, hopes and dreams, their loves, et cetera. The other part is about a particular neighbor who Jimmy Stewart thinks has murdered his wife. That's the mystery. So Jimmy Stewart spends all of his time watching this neighbor through his binoculars or, because he's a photographer, a long-focus lens. That's actually really practical - we did that to the White House when we were in Washington D.C. - Did you know they have a bee hive? Grace Kelly is his fiancée, and she also thinks that the neighbor's a murderer, and they're trying to convince a detective buddy that Jimmy Stewart has that it's true.

I really like Rear Window - It's probably my favorite mystery so far. The actual murder is definitely the main plot, but it also has more to it. The neighbors that Jimmy Stewart are just terrifically crafted characters, even though you never see them talk, and you really care for them - but in a sort of detached, distant way, which is the point - that's how Jimmy Stewart feels about them.

The problem with having really big-name stars in movies is that I usually don't actually both to learn the name of the character, because they're so obviously that actor. I almost can't associate them with a separate character. Especially since Jimmy Stewart always plays very similar characters - Nice, but in a gruff, scary way. Well, I say always, but truth be told, I've only ever seen two Jimmy Stewart movies: This, and It's a Wonderful Life (Good movie). Two data points isn't a pattern, but so far that seems to be the general Jimmy Stewart persona. Which is cool - I really like it in this movie, and in It's a Wonderful Life. But that's why Jimmy Stewart's character is Jimmy Stewart in my head, and not Jeff.

I liked Grace Kelly a lot better in this movie than I did in Dial M for Murder. Admittedly, she didn't really have much of a character to play in that movie. This character is much better - she feels more like a person than a victim. I also liked the other female character of the movie - Stella, Jimmy Stewart’s nurse, played by Thelma Ritter, who disapproves of his spying on his neighbors. She's great. Which reminds me: Did you know that Lawrence of Arabia is the longest movie to not have a single woman in a speaking role in it? Yeah, true story. But that is not true of this movie – It is, for one thing, much shorter than Lawrence of Arabia.

Again, two data points don't make a pattern, but things are looking good for Alfred Hitchcock. Each of the Hitchcock movies I've seen have been like exquisitely crafted soufflés of cinema. I just love how much care goes into these movies and how every detail is looked at and thought of and fixed even before the movie is filmed, and how you can tell in the finished product. The Alfred Hitchcock cameo in this movie reflects that, because he’s shown winding a clock, symbolizing his control of the whole operation. Some may call Hitchcock’s insane attention to detail obsession, but I call that a healthy dose of perfectionism and I fully support it. I say micromanage on, Alfred Hitchcock. Micromanage on. Because, of course, if anyone can micromanage from beyond the grave, it’s Alfred Hitchcock.

This movie is just a wonderful example of cinema. It’s a terrific movie because it’s really an unusal story and an unusual way of making a movie. I love how self-contained it feels – At the time, it was one of the largest sets ever built on a sound stage – and I love how you experienced the same thing as the characters – You get close to the neighbors, but stay total strangers at the same time, and you doubt that that man is a murder until more evidence is offered up and it just feels very suspenseful and important. When you’re watching this movie, it is really important. This movie does exactly what it wants to do, and that makes me really happy. I love to see things that are well-done. Except in steak. I prefer that rare.

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