Friday, August 01, 2014

Killing Time

"That's no ordinary look. That's the kind of a look a man gives when he's afraid somebody might be watching him."

L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart)

I have written here before of my fondness for Alfred Hitchcock's movies.

I've seen most of them on TV, but "Rear Window" was an exception. In 1984, it was re–released to theaters to celebrate its 30th anniversary, and I took advantage of that opportunity. In fact, I remember going to the theater to see it. I couldn't tell you the exact date, but I remember the experience of seeing that movie in a theater — and not one of today's multi–cubicle screens but a single–screen theater like the kind that existed when "Rear Window" was first released.

It has always made me regret not having seen more of Hitchcock's movies on the big screen — because that really is where they should be seen. Well, most of them, anyway. Hitchcock's work predated the wide–screen format; because of that, I'm not sure if his early works are more impressive on a big screen than they are on a television screen. Some might be; others might not.

All of Hitchcock's wide–screen films probably should be seen on the big screen — at least once.

Anyway, that was the conclusion I reached after I saw "Rear Window" at the theater. It premiered 60 years ago today, but it was fresh and new to me when I saw it in 1984. I thought I was in love with Grace Kelly before I saw "Rear Window," but she was breathtaking when I saw her on the big screen.

I felt there was an electric kind of attraction between Kelly and Jimmy Stewart. I really regret that their only movie together was "Rear Window." Don't get me wrong. It was a great movie, but it was a one–shot wonder. They could have been one of the great movie teams of all time.

The American Film Institute rated "Rear Window" 48th of all time. AFI also named it 14th among the thrillers. Besides, the movie matched the #3 actor and the #13 actress of all time, according to another AFI list.

Who could ask for anything more?

"Rear Window" had the benefit of Hitchcock (nominated for an Oscar for his direction) and screenwriter John Michael Hayes (also nominated for an Oscar). That combination produced possibly the best of Hitchcock's movies. Well, that is what I have heard some critics say; that isn't a conclusion I would reach because I tend to think that "North by Northwest" is Hitchcock's best. My second choice probably would be "Psycho" or "Vertigo" — and then "Rear Window."

They're all good, certainly worth seeing on a big screen. (If I have a cinematic bucket list, it would include seeing those other three Hitchcock movies on a big screen before I die. Actually, I'd like to see them all that way, but if I can only see three, those are the three I would choose.)

The movie dealt primarily with voyeurism. "It's wrong, we know, to spy on others," wrote critic Roger Ebert, "but after all, aren't we always voyeurs when we go to the movies?"

Stewart's character was stuck in his apartment while he recuperated from a broken leg. A successful photographer, he filled his days by spying on his neighbors through the lens of his camera. The audience saw everything he saw. When he dozed off and missed things, the audience did, too.

His only regular visitors were his nurse (Thelma Ritter) and his girlfriend (Kelly). They were skeptical at first when he suggested that one of his neighbors (Raymond Burr) had apparently killed his wife, but Stewart's character persuaded them.

It didn't require much persuasion. Kelly's character was already eager to get Stewart's character to commit to her. It seemed like she would do just about anything to score points with him. "How far does a girl have to go before you notice her?" she asked at one point.

"Well if she's pretty enough," Stewart replied, "she doesn't have to go anywhere. She just has to be."

He insisted that "I'm not exactly on the other side of the room." They were locked in a passionate embrace at the time, which made it difficult to dispute what he said, but, nevertheless, Kelly begged to differ.

"Your mind is," she said. "When I want a man, I want all of you."

And I had to give it to Stewart's character. He kept his mind on the mystery he was trying to solve. Most men probably wouldn't have that kind of will power. I wouldn't. Not with Grace Kelly in my arms.

A lot of things have changed since "Rear Window" was made, and, if someone found himself in Stewart's position in 2014, he might not be able to use the same camera tactics that Stewart did — like using the flash to blind Raymond Burr when he was lured from his apartment and confronted the wheelchair–bound Stewart.

I had never seen Burr in a bad–guy role before. When I was a child, my father used to like to watch reruns of Perry Mason and Ironsides on weekend afternoons, and I watched them with him. As a result, I had an image in my head of Burr as the kind of guy who investigated and/or prosecuted crimes. He wasn't the kind of guy who committed crimes.

But, in "Rear Window," he was. At least, he was the kind of guy who could murder his wife and then try to dispose of her body. Stewart had reached that conclusion on his own; his problem was that he didn't have the kind of evidence that courts like to have.

"Rear Window" received four Oscar nominations, including (as I said earlier) one for Best Director (one of five for Hitchcock).