This time on Required Viewing, we explore one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most iconic films: Rear Window. 63 years later, it’s as effective and suspenseful as ever, and Grace Kelly is still the best girlfriend ever.
Annemarie, kick us off will all the standard questions, won’t you? What’s your take on this film? Why did I make you watch it? We know Lisa is too good for L.B. Jefferies, but how out of his league is he?
A: I mean, it’s Hitchcock. It’s Grace Kelly. It’s Jimmy “Building and Loan” Stewart. It’s a hot summer in New York City. This is iconic filmmaking 101, I’m sure (and I’m sure Brooke will school me on the details). Stuff that filmmakers for years have been inspired by. I’ll stay, start to finish, this might be my favorite classic RV entry so far. Here’s why:
- Grace Kelly is fucking flawless. I’d never seen her act before, and I’m duly impressed. And here, she’s also the world’s Best Girlfriend Ever. Seriously. No one has put up with shit like Lisa does from Jeff.
- Stella is also the best and I would 100% watch a buddy comedy featuring her and Lisa. I don’t quite know what she was doing with the aggressive back-rub ointment sessions but if it keeps Jeff from having to be bed-bound for the rest of his life, I’m all for it.
Obviously, Jeff is the world’s worst boyfriend. I do appreciate that he comes around in the end, but he is about 20,000 leagues out of his depth with Lisa. He knows it, which is why I figure he pushes her away.
Brooke, what of the plot is of importance here? Any film geek knowledge on this? I presume there is. Also, you know this is coming: favorite dress.
B: I’m honestly stunned you didn’t start with favorite dress. I’ll get there, of course, but first, let’s talk about all of those film nerd details you’ve kindly asked for — because, let’s face it, you knew I was going to give them to you no matter what. There are a lot of nerds who know a lot more about Hitch than I do, but there are definitely some morsels about Rear Window and the flawless Grace Kelly floating around in my head. Did you know that a lot of directors during that era didn’t consider Grace much of an actress? I don’t know if Hitch was one of them, but he did cast her in two of his most iconic pictures, so she worked for him on some level. As always, Karina Longworth has told this story much better than I have, check out the You Must Remember This episode dedicated to Grace for all the deets.
And this brings us around to the plot, it’s contextually relevant that blockbuster blondes are absolutely Hitch’s type. He had rather a weakness for falling in love, or at least infatuation with his leading ladies, and there’s often psychosexual threads in his storytelling. The most commonly ascribed to this narrative is an undercurrent about male impotence and desire.
You might say that Jeff’s inability to commit and his general fuckery occurs because he knows he’s vastly out of his league. This paralyzes him in the relationship. He’s terrified to commit or even to get physical in several scenes because, as he tells Stella, Lisa’s too perfect. So keep all this in mind as we look at the actual plot of the movie. Jeff is wheelchair-bound by an injury. He quite literally cannot leave his apartment, can’t keep up with his girl, can’t do a lot of things with his girl. So, he watches the neighbors. And perhaps, he wouldn’t pin so much on his suspicions being correct if all was normal in his life. There’s a LOT to unpack in this realm, but you get the idea. Rear Window is about a murder, and the world’s best girlfriend, but potentially it’s a lot more about what men want and how they react when they feel they can’t have that. Only Hitch would know for sure, but it sounds plausible to me. Discuss.
Okay, now to the all-important question of my favorite dress. I LOVE the elegant black and white number she’s wearing when she strolls in for the first time. It’s a jaw-dropping entrance, and somehow it’s completely believable that she’s the kind of girl who could pull off that evening attire doing any ol’ thing. Okay, AM. What’s your favorite?
I’d also like to hear about your favorite neighbor and how you would react if your guy became convinced he was living across the street from a murderer.
A: First of all, it took everything in me to not start with the dresses, but I wanted you to provide that all-important context first. It’s everything, dahling. My favorite might also be her black-and-white showstopper, but I also dearly loved the green and white suit that’s revealed to be a halter. Is there some subtext to her costumes having interesting layers? The shawl, the gloves, hats and jackets she removes? Then there’s the nightie and shoes all smashed into a mini briefcase? Am I correctly psychosexual-analyzing Hitchcock?
Which brings me to Jeff’s cop buddy, Tom. Could he BE any more judgey about what Jeff and Lisa may or may not be up to? And also, can you imagine having to ask for your landlord’s permission to have an evening or overnight guest? Wowza. Things have changed in the 60-odd years since this film came out.
Favorite neighbor is hands-down Ms. Lonely Hearts. I love that she gets a happy ending, but her pain was palpable even from across the courtyard. Honorable Mentions go to Ms. Torso and the sweet couple with the murdered dog (WTF was up with that, by the way?) who sleep on their fire escape.
Honestly, I’d be pretty concerned if my man friend tried to convince me there was a neighbor murder, but also, that sounds like pretty good (if terrifying) Hot Goss that I would also immediately need to investigate further. Judging is one of our hobbies, after all.
Tell me, is Stella or Lisa your favorite? You can only pick one. Also, favorite neighbor and whether you’d put up with the blatant misogyny of the 1950s in order to get your hands on Grace’s dresses?
B: The layers almost certainly mean something. And your analysis is as good a guess as any. If we add something about peeling back layers to the true soul or something we might get bonus points. I just used the word “something” an inordinate amount of time because I am out of my depths on that particular angle.
Anyway, I do know for certain that you are quite right, Tom the detective slash “pal” is the worst. Not only does he get all Judgey McJudgeface about what Jeff and Lisa might be doing, he almost instantly proceeds to ogle Ms. Torso, when he’s a married man. Not cool, bro. Not cool. Maybe he should have been a landlord if he wanted to judge whether or not people could have sleepovers. Mostly, I think Lisa made him feel even more inadequate than she makes Jeff feel, and that is saying something.
If I must choose (you knew I would have said both without that rule), I’d choose Lisa as my favorite. Stella gets most of the brilliant one-liners, but Lisa gets the pluck and the pretty clothes and the fabulous lifestyle. Which brings me to the answer of your question about the misogyny as the pre-requisite for the dresses. IF I could also have Lisa’s job and options for independence, yes, I think I would. The New York of the ’50s has a dreamy quality that I think I’d like to explore, IF I was an upwardly mobile PR ingenue.
I also really tend to cheer for Ms. Lonely Hearts, and I quite like the piano player. But I think the neighbors that bring me the most amusement are the newlywed couple. We see the sweetness of him carrying her over the threshold, and then we only seem him sticking his head out for fresh air and a smoke before his bride calls him back. I think this is an interesting plot-snub in the nose to Jeff. And it’s almost subversive to think that Hitchcock is painting an innocent woman as having a sexual appetite. And let’s be real, he does this with two women in this picture, as our gal Lisa is clearly more than a little put off that what’s happening outside the window is more interesting to Jeff than what’s she’s doing on his lap.
AM, do you think we could solve this murder if one or both of us were in Jeff’s situation? And, if you were in Jeff’s situation, how would you defend yourself against Thorwald? Personally, I would have locked my damn door.
A: If using one’s camera flash against a murderous intruder is all it takes to avoid death, I think I could handle myself. Yes, I would have locked that damn door with a deadbolt or 5, which would have helped exponentially. It’s curious to ponder how I would handle this situation. Yes, I’m thirsty for all of the information that comes with observing one’s neighbors and friends. But I’m generally non-confrontational so I imagine I would have helpfully set up a comprehensive timeline with all details mapped out, but I’d definitely avoid engaging with the man who I believed to be a murderer.
Ok, how would you have approached this situation, with the obvious constraints of the technology of the time? And also, thank you for the analysis. I think we would do quite well as psychologists.
B: Yeah, with little else to occupy me I probably would have done a lot of book reading and napping and trying to convince Stella to play cards with me. But eventually, I would have given in to the neighborhood theater, and I almost certainly would have developed a lot of theories. I think I would be most apt to take a page from your book and assembled a timeline that I would then have sent to a proper cop. Not Judgey McJudgeface.
Clearly, I adore this picture, but here’s a question I have for you. If I’m Jeff, and I have a fancy telephoto lens and a good angle, why am I not taking snaps of this neighbor doing suspicious things? Riddle me that!
A: I believe Jeff WAS taking photos! He has the gang review the flowerbed snaps he took a week apart to figure out if the dog had dug something up. He might have had more, and I agree he’s simply using the lens to peek most of the time. Perhaps a lost opportunity, but perhaps this riddle is solved?
B: Is this the end of Required Viewing? I actively forgot a pretty critical plot point in a movie I’m meant to be making you watch. And here you are, dropping all sorts of knowledge on me. Learned well, you have. And it was kind to grant me the idea that Jeff was slacking a bit on taking actual pictures, but yeah, case closed.
From one of the most iconic films from one of Hollywood’s most iconic authors, we’re shifting gears to a comedy that hails from the Adam Sandler universe. He’s not in it, but Nick Swardson is, and he’s brilliant.