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Tag Archive: Rear Window


Review by C.J. Bunce

Notorious isn’t just the name of an Alfred Hitchcock film, it describes the reputation of the acclaimed director over the course of his 55-year career.  Over the course of his films he would become famous for not only the blonde actresses in his films, but his misogynistic, voyeuristic, fetishism themes and content.  A precursor in many ways to Quentin Tarentino, Hitchcock nearly 40 years after his death is as popular as ever, with his film Vertigo still on many critics’ lists as the best American film of all time.  Those who view his films are left to wonder how much of the content of his films were the man, and how often was he simply selling what moviegoers were looking for–something new, something surprising, something stylish, and something shocking.  The flip side of Hitchcock viewed as provocateur is the fact that his films always featured a strong lead woman–sometimes from the opening scene and other times by film’s end–and the actress was often the only name marketed above the title, including some of the most fierce and compelling women characters ever filmed.

Scotland author Caroline Young takes a compelling look at the director and his relationship with the leading women in his films in her new book Hitchcock’s Heroines, a photograph-filled hardcover from Insight Editions.  Young, author of Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome, Tartan & Tweed, and Style Tribes, sources interviews with the actors as well as interviews with Hitchcock to gain a better understanding of what motivated his work.  He spent the first half of his career–represented by the first half of the book–developing the style he would come to be known for by the time of his 1954 success Rear Window, culminating in his ideal production team: costume designer Edith Head, production designer Robert Burks, assistant director Herbert Coleman, and editor George Tomasini.  Hitchcock knew that most of his audience were women and believed that in the 1940s-1960s women usually determined what movie a couple was going to attend.  So the appearance of his leading women was as important, if not more important, than any other part of the film.  He also had an eye for using color and wardrobe as part of his storytelling tools, perhaps changing a character’s muted-toned costumes to striking and contrasting by film’s end to represent a character’s change in mood, strength, or growth.

Hitchcock’s Heroines is a superb source of costume sketches, costume designs, and production stills spanning Hitchcock’s directorial career.  Young includes with her discussions of each actress and corresponding character the costumes and costumers, which amounts to a history of Hollywood costume design artists, including Jean Peron, Dolly Tree, Joe Strassner, Marianne, Irene, Edward Stevenson, Vera West, Gilbert Adrian, René Hubert, Howard Greer, Edith Head, Christian Dior, Milo Anderson, Moss Mabry, Helen Rose, Harry Kress, Rita Riggs, Helen Colvig, and Julie Harris, although it was also not beyond Hitchcock to source his own vision from off-the-rack wardrobe from Western Costume Company or Bergdorf Goodman. Hair style and hair color is also a recurring theme Young pursues in the book.

Young references an interview from 1931 where Hitchcock discussed selecting actresses for roles: “The chief point I keep in mind when selecting my heroine is that she must be fashioned to please women rather than men, for the reason that women form three-quarters of the average cinema audience.  Therefore, no actress can be a good commercial proposition as a film heroine unless she pleases her own sex.”  It is noteworthy that Hitchcock was not always responsible for who starred in his films–Young cites instances where studio head David O. Selznick directly cast Hitchcock’s leading actors.

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Stewart camera Rear Window

Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the first classic movies restored using a state of the art Technicolor dye-transfer process, the restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s most stylish and suspenseful film, Rear Window, provided 1990s audiences a presentation of the film better than it was originally seen upon its initial release in 1954.  That version was back on the big screen this week, thanks to Turner Classic Movies and the Fathom Events series.  Inspired by a Cornell Woolrich short story about voyeurism and murder, Hitch’s classic piece of cinema still holds up, keeping a 2015 audience completely engaged with his unique use of humor juxtaposed with some pretty grisly circumstances.

Anchored by top performances from Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, and just as superb supporting performances by Thelma Ritter and Wendell Corey, Rear Window is as atmospheric as any film of its decade.  Hitchcock filmed primarily in the muted brown tones of a sweltering urban summer, but he used targeted deep reds to highlight key imagery: the mercury of a wall thermometer, a bright and significant bed of flowers, a perfect lobster dinner, crisp uneaten bacon, and a certain fashionable socialite’s lipstick in her opening scene.  And yet, unlike Hitchcock’s The Birds or Psycho, the red of blood–and any gore at all–is kept off-stage.  He didn’t need it.  The suspense builds for two hours and even after 60 years, the payoff–and especially what we can’t see–is still able to transfix audiences with nail-biting action.

Stewart Kelly Rear Window scene

Highly memorable is the music–a soaring clarinet rises up above Franz Waxman’s jazz score from the film’s first scene, reflecting the liveliness of the block, the active and important parts of all the lives visible from the rear window of Stewart’s L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, a war photographer laid up with a broken leg.  Waxman’s stylish music propels the story forward despite Jeff’s claustrophobic, trapped circumstance.  Love themes, like Bing Crosby’s “To See You is to Love You” and “Many Dreams Ago” reflect the seemingly hopeless plight of Miss Lonelyhearts–a single woman longing to find love who is attacked and then plans to commit suicide.  Waxman’s own song “Lisa” takes on its own life, composed over the course of the film by a piano player across the courtyard, to get noticed by Miss Lonelyhearts, and be picked up as the love theme for Jeff and Grace Kelly’s character, Jeff’s girlfriend Lisa Fremont.  And to relieve the tension at story’s end, a rousing accordion plays “That’s Amore” to the curtain.

Rear Window Stewart Corey

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rear window fathom

It’s Alfred Hitchcock’s most suspenseful film, his most engaging and atmospheric, and it features top lead actors with stars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.  It’s his 1954 blockbuster Rear Window, and if you haven’t seen it on the big screen then you haven’t seen it at all.

Tomorrow, March 22, 2015, and Wednesday, March 25, 2015, as part of the Fathom Event series, theaters across the country will screen the restored cut of the film.  Presented by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, the film will be introduced by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

It’s a steamy, sultry summer, and L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a war photographer bedridden from an injury to his leg.  He’s being taken care of by nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter, and is constantly being prodded for his affections by the beautiful fashion model Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly.  Jeffries’ apartment overlooks a courtyard and the back sides of other apartments, and as Jeffries gets more and more bored he begins following the goings-on out his rear window.  Newlyweds, a musician, an unhappy couple, an older couple, a dancer, a lonely woman.

Grace Kelly Jimmy Stewart

Is the heat getting to Jeffries, or could one of these tenants have committed a murder across the way?

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A missed opportunity across the country is the failure to establish a regular, ongoing market for old movies being shown on modern theater screens.  Only recently (OK, the late 1990s so not that recently) mass audiences were able to go back and see the original Star Wars trilogy in the theater and in the past year we were able to see more recent, but still years old, films in the theater well after their initial release, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Avengers films, and the Batman franchise.  But for decades now “art house” theaters from time to time get old releases and screen these old films for a few weeks at a time.  Usually the quality is poor, yet it gives new audiences as well as the older crowd that saw the films in their initial release an opportunity to discover or enjoy the films again.

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