This afternoon I re-watched Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1954 film Rear Window, as part of a reprise series currently happening at the local cinema. I first saw Rear Window 14 years ago, as part of what must have been yet another revival. This time I appreciated it much more.
Spoiler alert: James Stewart plays a temporarily laid-up photographer, who lives in a small apartment in a densely populated Greenwich Village. While recuperating he spies on the neighbors as there is little else to do (there is no TV in his place, and--heaven forfend!--no iPhone.) He eventually becomes convinced that one of his neighbors has murdered his wife. He has trouble convincing the police of this, as his evidence is circumstantial. But he successfully enlists the support of his dazzling socialite girlfriend (Grace Kelly) and salt-of-the-earth nurse (Thelma Ritter) to sleuth out the evidence. They are right and the cops are wrong. In the harrowing finale the neighbor (Raymond Burr, long before he was Perry Mason) attempts to kill Stewart too. He does not succeed.
That's a serviceable account, I acknowledge that Wikipedia's rendition is much more detailed. The plot is widely known so I phoned that part in. I hesitated to say even this much--as often happens when spelling out the bare details, some of the ineffable magic of Hitchcock's masterpiece is lost. But some background seemed required.
Enough plot talk. Really the film is a philosophical meditation about when harmless nosiness becomes unjustifiable intrusiveness; Grace Kelly for one notes that she is no expert on "rear window ethics." And it's a smart take on varying class mores regarding romance; Ritter is appalled at the romantic machinations of people we'd now call yuppies. And it's a parable about how the rigors of applying official legal evidence can obscure the truth rather than revealing it. And it's an account of the requisite stubbornness, with a dash of mania, that is sometimes required to bring hard truths to the fore. And it's a majestically presented take on the quotidian details of life in a bustling patch of New York City. And it's a brilliantly flirty romance between Stewart and Kelly, complete with hand-delivered gourmet meals and warm brandy.
I'm not sure if brandy ages well, like good wine. Hopefully I've aged (somewhat) well myself, as the drama and tensions in the film had much more resonance for me than they did 14 years ago.
One could dismiss this film as a trifling romantic caper and nothing more. But Hitchcock is no mere dime store projectionist. In Rear Window he captures the ineluctable madness of being human.