One of my many memories of my grandfather is watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents with him. He loved Hitchcock movies, and for all the right reasons. He appreciated the subtleties and nuances that you don't tend to find in other thrillers, he loved the cast, and he generally loved the mood of Hitchcock's work. It's because of him that I love Hitchcock's films today. At this point in my life, I've seen something like half to two-thirds of the Master's works that were made before 1970, and Rear Window, the first of his movies to cross my path, is still my favorite. It's still one of his most perfect works, and when I put it in my DVD player today, I wondered, not for the first time, how well this would adapt to the stage, because in some ways, it feels like a play that's been adapted to film.
The first thing that caught my attention this time around is how the social reaction to J.B. "Jeff" Jefferies' snooping is so different back then than it would be today. Everyone in Jeff's life chastises him for peeping on his neighbors, first because he had nothing to do but stare out his window into theirs, and then when he used binoculars or a zoom lens to get a better view. Less than 40 years later, peeping on your neighbors in New York City had become so commonplace that no one batted an eyelash when Sliver appeared on the scene and had was using a telescope not to gaze at the stars, but at her neighbors doing scandalous things.
It's the cast and their portrayal of some wonderful characters that really pulls this ahead of Hitchcock's other works, even though in many cases, these are actors who worked in Hitchcock's thrillers time and time again. Jimmy Stewart made a career out of Hitchcock movies, and was generally the star in the best of them. His frank and earnest portrayal of a man who is bored and cranky, suffering from cabin fever in the wake of a broken leg is so dead on that you don't doubt for a minute that this is a story that has evolved naturally, rather than one that survives on contrivance and plot device. Grace Kelly's portrayal of Lisa Fremont is fairly close to the perfect woman: beautiful, smart, sophisticated, generous, a little sexy, and brave near to the point of stupidity. That last is a flaw, but every perfect thing needs something to mar the perfection, doesn't it? And Lisa's running off where angels would fear to tread is certainly a flaw.
The bit players in this movie are a bit weak. Those actors who have a lot of silent performance but only one or two lines tended to be outstanding in their pantomime, but terrible in the execution of their lines. Like Lisa Fremont, Rear Window needed a little flaw in order to make it absolutely perfect without being intimidating. There are worse ways to go.
Rear Window has spawned a number of copycats over the years, including a remake in (I think) the late 90s. I'd argue that Sliver is very, very similar, only sexing up the story a lot and modernizing the technology that you can use to spy on people. Most recently, Disturbia was made as a way of introducing the younger generation to classic thriller principles, which I think it did beautifully. If you've seen any of these and liked them, I'd suggest you hit up on the inspiration, as well.
I don’t have much of an affinity for film noir, only because I haven’t had much exposure to it and it’s mostly been my understanding that people who dig noir dig it because someone else introduced them to this quirky genre. Not many lovers of it fall in to it. So I was a little surprised by the dichotomy built in to the film’s story line, which begins with the murder of a beautiful, but not-so-well liked, model with hopes to be a star and ends with a much brighter note.
It wasn’t just that though. Someone made it a point to play an instrumental version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” fairly frequently, which always gives me a sort of idyllic feeling, and might still have that reaction even if it hadn’t been part of The Wizard of Oz’s soundtrack. There was also the idea that the “beautiful people” were capable of getting mixed up in under the right circumstances, which made for a really nice premise. What I’m not sure about was how successful a mystery I Wake Up Screaming really was. Everything seems to roll together fairly quickly, which is fine, and I have to say that I think the initial phases of the mystery, the build-up and the actual death, are very well done.
It’s the solving of the mystery that bothered me a bit. Things were happening that didn’t make sense to me in the greater scheme of the story, but I can’t go in to details without there being a spoiler. I suspect what I would have preferred was more back story initially rather than dealing with it in a Memento sort of way. It wasn’t bad, I’m just not sure that what we saw were entirely reasonable given the circumstances. I even had to go back a few chapters several times to make sure I was interpreting the story correctly.
This is a rare thing for me, but I also feel like this is a movie that could benefit from a remake. The days when we had actors of the quality of Betty Grable, Carole Landis, and Victor Mature on the shelf are more or less over, but I thought this could do with some more graphic treatment of the murder and investigation. I’m not looking for a scene where the killer hacks up a victim, but I would have liked a bit more CSI-ish investigation.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a mystery film handled quite like this before. It was an interesting change and is certainly worth watching for the fan of noir or a fan of mystery films.