(director: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: John Michael Hayes/from a story by Cornell Woolrich; cinematographer: Robert Burks; editor: George Tomasini; music: Franz Waxman; cast: James Stewart (L.B. Jeffries), Grace Kelly (Lisa Carol Fremont), Wendell Corey (Thomas J. Doyle, detective), Thelma Ritter (Stella), Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald), Judith Evelyn (Miss Lonely Heart), Georgine Darcy (Miss Torso, the dancer), Sara Berner (Fire Escape Woman); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Alfred Hitchcock; Paramount; 1954)
“Alfred Hitchcock’s answer to why he makes films and perhaps his darkest one, both as a romance and as a thriller.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Alfred Hitchcock’s answer to why he makes films and perhaps his darkest one, both as a romance and as a thriller. It plays as the ultimate guilty pleasure treat (comparing the viewer to a voyeur who sits in the dark judging what he sees while being unobserved) and an allegory to the dreamlike workings of the cinema. Hitch makes the most of his artificial Greenwich Village setting to stage an innovative, suspenseful and entertaining but morally questionable voyeuristic murder mystery story. It’s based on a story by Cornell Woolrich and is scripted by John Michael Hayes; it uses a simple plot line of following through on the suspicions of an experienced newsman that a murder took place even though there’s no body or witness to the murder.
Go-getter photojournalist L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) is wheelchair-bound in his sweltering Village apartment due to a broken leg and is visited by his Upper East Side longtime girlfriend, ex- fashion model Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), who is disappointed she can’t talk him into marriage. His excuse is that he’s a workaholic and can’t be responsible to take such a jet-setter along to the hot spots he covers. To relieve his boredom, Jeff spies on his neighbors (such as a musical composer, a sexy looking dancer he calls Miss Torso and the middle-aged woman who entertains imaginary guests he calls Miss Lonely Heart) with a pair of binoculars and then with his high-scope camera. Everyone seems to have their windows open and their blinds up during these hot summer days. On a rainy night, across from the courtyard of his rear view apartment, Jeff notices a jewelry salesman named Thorwald (Raymond Burr) leaving the apartment three times with a trunk and that his invalid wife is no longer in the bedroom. Though he didn’t see the murder, Jeff expects foul play.
Jeff calls his old army buddy, now a police lieutenant in the area, Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey) to check things out unofficially. But he draws a blank. Stella (Thelma Ritter), Jeff’s wisecracking nurse, and Jeff’s perfect girlfriend Lisa believe him and in the end help the immobilized puritanical newsman discover the truth.
The camera, for almost the entire film, is kept in Jeff’s apartment and seems to tell the story as if we were watching a silent film (the set was designed on the back lot of Paramount by Hal Pereira).
The film has been brilliantly restored by preservationists Robert Harris and James Katz. It had been out of circulation to the public for a number of years, as the filmmaker presented this film plus four others (“Vertigo” (1958), “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1955), “The Trouble With Harry” (1956) and “Rope” (1948)) as a gift to his daughter after purchasing them from Paramount. After a court battle, the films in the 1980s were once again made public.
REVIEWED ON 7/4/2005 GRADE: A-