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Sunday Classics Matinee: Rear Window

by Robb Reel

We have Movie Night every week at the Reel Estate.  There are four of us and sometimes "adjacents" -- friends, family, significant others -- join us for the fun.  We do homemade pizza and popcorn.  It's good, old-timey fun, so we decided to go for an older movie this week.

One of the housemates had never seen a single Alfred Hitchcock film.  Not one.  There were so many choices from the "Master of Suspense" -- Psycho, North by Northwest, the vastly underrated Family Plot, Frenzy, The Wrong Man, Dial M for Murder, Notorious, Vertigo -- the list really is just too long.

So we went with...

John Michael Hayes adapted the short story "It Had to be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich for what would become one of AFI's 100.  As with Lifeboat, Sir Alfred uses just one setting, a small apartment in a small Greenwich Village apartment complex.  The titular vista is on a courtyard shared with the other units.

The legendary James Stewart is L.B. Jefferies, a photojounralist mending a broken leg suffered during an accident while shooting at a racetrack.  Very simply, it's a hot summer and "Jeff" is confined to a wheelchair to recover.  He observes various neighbors -- an arguing married couple, a pianist, a middle-aged sculptor -- and gives nicknames to some, like Miss Torso, a dancer, and Miss Lonelyhearts.

Soon he notices a travelling jewelry salesman, Lars Thorwald.  More recognized for his later TV roles, a surprisingly young [37] Raymond Burr plays a much older-looking Thorwald, whose bedridden mysteriously vanishes.  Jeff notices after hearing a scream in the night and the story begins to turn.

At first, Jeff's adjacents find it all silly or strange.  Tony-winner Thelma Ritter is priceless as his nurse Stella, who has been tending to him during his recovery, and is soon drawn into the voyeurism.  Somehow, this was not one of her amazing six Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Perhaps Ritter is overlooked because everyone is transfixed by the luminous Grace Kelly.  Barely 24 during filming, Kelly would garner an Best Actress nomination for her subsequent turn in The Country Girl.  Here it is evident why, in just two short years, she would be styled Her Serene Highness, the Princess of Monaco.

Jeff has his doubts about girlfriend Lisa Fremont [Kelly].  She's a wealthy socialite whom he finds a little shallow and, at first, a bit vapid.  It's really her desire for him to settle down and give up his globetrotting work that he finds most bothersome.  As Lisa becomes more and more involved in his sleuthing, he sees more of her adventurous side and reconsiders his breakup plans.

To tell any more would give away the story and its ending.  It's worth noting that so many plot devices and references to this movie have been used in other media that you may feel as though you've already seen it.  It also moves at a pace more suited to 1954, long before the quick-cut style to which we're now accustomed.

Still, you'll easily find yourself and your adjacents frantically chewing your popcorn, and maybe your fingernails.