“Rear Window” is a timeless thriller from the Master of Suspense

James Stewart stars as Jeff Jeffries in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece thriller "Rear Window." Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

When talking about thrillers, it's impossible to ignore Alfred Hitchcock’s effect on the genre. Over the course of roughly 60 years, the self-styled Master of Suspense directed over fifty films that continue to influence the way thrillers are made to this day. His movies range from the iconic to the absurd — “Psycho” and “The Birds,” respectively. The pretentious way filmmakers and film historians sometimes talk about his movies — going so far as to create the term “Hitchcockian” to describe similar films — makes Alfred Hitchcock seem somewhat intimidating to the average movie lover, but the movies themselves lack that same highbrow attitude and are audience-pleasing thrillers designed for anyone looking for an adrenaline rush and sweaty palms. No other movie in Hitchcock’s extensive catalogue delivers these as well as his 1954 hit “Rear Window.”

A major part of what makes “Rear Window” such a classic thriller is the simplicity of the plot. James Stewart plays Jeff Jeffries, a professional photographer living in Manhattan. Jeffries is confined to a wheelchair after breaking his leg while taking photos at a car race and spends much of his time looking out the rear window of his apartment into the building’s courtyard. Thanks to a heat wave, the neighbors on the opposite side of the courtyard have all begun opening their windows and Jeffries enjoys looking into the various apartments, giving backstories and nicknames to the occupants, such as “The Newlyweds'' and “Miss Lonelyhearts.” One night, Jeffries hears a woman scream from the apartment of traveling salesman Lars Thorwald and begins to watch Thorwald more closely, convinced the man has killed his own wife and buried her in the courtyard. Unable to investigate due to his injury and dismissed by the police, Jeffires enlists his socialite girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) to help prove his suspicions.

If the plot of this movie sounds familiar, it’s because the 2007 Shia LaBeouf movie “Disturbia” is a modernized remake of the story. “Disturbia” isn’t a bad movie by any means, but it can’t compete with the understated suspense of the original. Hitchcock creates an atmosphere of helplessness with the scenes all being confined to Jeff Jeffries’ apartment as the action takes place in the building across the courtyard. Like the main character, the audience never gets a close enough look to feel involved or completely sure of what happened in Thorwald’s apartment. Add in the police’s dismissal of Jeffries’ concerns and his increasingly suspicious neighbor and the film is the perfect blend of claustrophobia and paranoia. 

Without giving too much away, the climax of the film is what makes it arguably Hitchcock’s best film. A slow burn of a mystery for most of the story as Jeffries tries to piece together what happened in his neighbor’s apartment suddenly ramps up to a fever pitch as the story comes to a head. Saying anything else would rob the movie of its power — suffice to say the climax is pulse-pounding suspense at its finest.

Alfred Hitchock’s masterpiece “Rear Window” is rated PG and is available to stream on Hulu.

 

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