Rear Window

James Stewart as L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries and Grace Kelly as Lisa Freemont, "Rear Window" (1954)

James Stewart as L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries and Grace Kelly as Lisa Freemont, “Rear Window” (1954)

By Judy Berman

Just how quickly can you size up a person and a situation?

“Rear Window” opens with sweat rolling down James Stewart’s forehead as he sleeps. The thermostat in his apartment window reads 94 degrees. In the Greenwich Village courtyard outside, an ad blares on a neighbor’s radio, a clock’s jarring alarm awakens another couple who is sleeping on the fire escape, and a woman across the way is exercising in her tiny apartment.

The camera slowly pans around inside the apartment. Director Alfred Hitchcock reveals how Stewart wound up in a wheelchair, what he does for a living, and what his neighbors are like.

On his cast: “Here lie the broken bones of L. B. Jefferies.”

L.B. Jeffries' camera broken while he was shooting photos of a car crash at a race track.

L.B. Jeffries’ camera broken while he was shooting photos of a car crash at a race track.

The focus shifts to a broken camera atop a table near photos of a car crash at a racetrack. It looks like the cars are about to topple onto the photographer. Among the photos, a negative of a woman. Then her finished print is on a cover of a stack of magazines.

Within 2½ minutes, without saying one word, Hitchcock shows you plenty about his main character, L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries, played by Stewart.

Stewart is a top photographer for a magazine. He was injured six weeks earlier, taking that dramatic shot of the race car. He’s itching to get out of his plaster cocoon and back into action.

Meanwhile, in his boredom, he admits he has nothing to do but watch his neighbors. We become unwitting partners in his rear-window ethics as he moves from “people watching” to “peeping Tom.”  We never avert our eyes when what we see is the very personal stories of people’s private lives.

“All of the stories have a common denominator in that they involve some aspect of love. James Stewart’s problem is that he doesn’t want to marry Grace Kelly. Everything he sees across the way has a bearing on love and marriage,” said Francois Truffaut in an interview with Hitchcock about his films.

James Stewart and Grace Kelly

James Stewart and Grace Kelly

Stewart’s voyeurism narrows in on one couple in particular – Lars Thorwald (played by Raymond Burr) and his invalid wife. They bicker constantly.

One night, Stewart hears a loud crash and a scream. The next morning, the wife is missing and Burr is acting suspiciously. He’s rolling up his wife’s bedcovers and wrapping a knife and saw in newspaper.

Then, late at night, Stewart sees the salesman carrying his sample suitcase to and from his apartment. Stewart suspects Burr murdered his wife.

At first, Kelly, who plays a high-society fashion consultant, dismisses Stewart’s hunches.

Jeff (Stewart): Why would a man leave his apartment three times on a rainy night with a suitcase and come back three times?

Lisa (Kelly): He likes the way his wife welcomes him home.

Stewart’s physical therapist, Stella, (played by Thelma Ritter), also downplays his fears.

Thelma Ritter (as Stella), Grace Kelly and James Stewart focus in on Raymond Burr (as Lars Thorwald)

Thelma Ritter (as Stella), Grace Kelly and James Stewart focus in on Raymond Burr (as Lars Thorwald)

Soon, however, all three suspect foul play and watch Thorwald’s every move. At Stewart’s request, his old Army buddy investigates. The buddy, now a police detective, Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey), tells Stewart that there was no murder. He says the missing wife moved to the country.

They’re disappointed and feel a little foolish … until, one evening when Stewart and Kelly hear a piercing scream cut thru the courtyard. A neighbor’s dog is dead, killed. All the neighbors rush to their windows to see what happened. All of them … but, one.

Only the burning ember of the suspected killer’s cigarette is visible as he sits in his darkened apartment.

The motive? The dog was digging in Thorwald’s garden shortly after something was buried there. Kelly decides to break into Thorwald’s apartment to search for evidence that would prove his wife was dead. First, Stewart calls Thorwald to arrange a meeting at a bar down the street as a pretext to get Thorwald out of the apartment. Stewart hints at blackmail.

Kelly gains entry to Thorwald’s apartment and finds the evidence she needs. But Thorwald returns before she can escape.

Here, Hitchcock, the Master of Supsense, builds tension in that encounter and in another inside Stewart’s apartment.

Hitchcock made no apologies for the 1954 film’s hero spending all his time peeping out of the window.

“Sure, he’s a snooper, but aren’t we all?”

Alfred Hitchcock suspects that when we view someone across a courtyard that most of us will stay and look. No one says "It's none of my business."

Alfred Hitchcock suspects that when we view someone across a courtyard that most of us will stay and look. No one says “It’s none of my business.”

Video: movie trailer, “Rear Window,” (1954) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m01YktiEZCw

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-13. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or
earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original
content.

Photos: all of the photos from “Rear Window” are from the website fanpop.com

Photo: Alfred Hitchcock http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/94/Hitchcock%2C_Alfred_02.jpg/541px-Hitchcock%2C_Alfred_02.jpg

Hitchcock’s Take on Reality

By Judy Berman

It seemed so innocent. Feeding pigeons in a park. The next I knew, a flock of birds converged on my baguette. I dropped the bread, fearing that if I didn’t, all that would be left of me was my trench coat and glasses.

I also feel uneasy around the ominous stares from birds gathered on the power lines. Birds swooping down on the beach near our home also make me edgy.

What accounts for this irrational fear? Blame Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds. Just what was the Master of Suspense’s inspiration for swarms of birds that ganged up on the public and attacked them?

The genesis for that plotline was ripped from the headlines. It was not the first time that Hitchcock chose to weave fact with fiction to keep audiences riveted in their movie seats.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Imagine Hitchcock scouring the news stories and breathing new life into ancient yarns. He did this with Rear Window (1954), by using details from two different crimes to develop characters and the story. With The Lady Vanishes, he also rewove elements in an old tale to create his suspenseful 1938 spy movie.

In 1961, Hitchcock was shooting a movie in Bodega Bay when he heard about crows attacking some young lambs “in the same locality where we were working,” according to “Hitchcock,” by Francois Truffaut, a noted film critic and filmmaker. The movie director met with the farmer whose lambs had been attacked and got the idea for some of the scenes in the 1963 suspense thriller.

Hitchcock said “these things do happen from time to time, and they’re generally due to a bird disease, a form of rabies.”

The birds are now believed to have ingested toxic algae.

“The cause of the outbreak in 1961 was not identified. Then, 30 years later, disorientation and death struck brown pelicans in the same area,” according to a recent story by LiveSciences senior writer Wynne Perry.

“It was found that the birds had eaten a toxin, domoic acid … which are diatoms, a type of algae.” This can “cause confusion, disorientation, scratching, seizures and death in birds that eat the stuff,” Perry wrote.

For Rear Window, death also occurred by an unnatural cause: murder. Here, Hitchcock took “two news stories from the British press. One was the Patrick Mahon case and the other was the case of Dr. Crippen.”

After Raymond Burr’s character, Lars Thorwald, kills his wife in Rear Window, Thorwald has the same problem as Dr. Crippen. How is he going to dispose of the body? Then, the added dilemma of how to explain her absence. Justice quickly caught up with both. (The movie also starred James Stewart, picture at left, and Grace Kelly.)

The Lady Vanishes was based on a film called So Long at the Fair. “It’s supposed to be a true story, and the key to the whole puzzle is that it took place during the great Paris exposition, in the year the Eiffel Tower was completed,” Hithcock told Truffaut.

In this film, mother and daughter are visiting Paris when the mother becomes ill. She has bubonic plague, and officials were concerned that this would scare away crowds who were coming to Paris for the exposition. This yarn fits the story line of The Lady Vanishes, where a great scheme is devised to deny the existence of Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), who turns up missing aboard a moving train. As it turns out, Miss Froy was key in unraveling a spy mystery.

Hitchcock always did have the knack to leave me Spellbound. That the plots were strange … and often based on reality … I Confess that’s even spookier.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Still of Alfred Hitchcock from The Birds trailer

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alfred_Hitchcock%27s_The_Birds_trailer_01.png

Flock of gulls

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flock_of_gulls_-_various_species.jpg

Article: “Blame Hitchcock’s crazed birds on toxic algae”

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45862619

Still of James Stewart in Rear Window

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Stewart_in_Rear_Window_trailer.jpg