Rear window, is, on a basic level, an incredibly satisfying and compact story. But Hitchcock’s tale of voyeurism and paranoia has never merely been a thriller. While it may be compact, it reaches beyond being a self-contained drama.
The setup is tantalising cinema that plays with the voyeuristic tendencies of cinema audiences. There’s a bedbound photographer in New York, a boiling hot summer and a neighbourhood of flats occupied by shifty and intriguing characters. And when photographer Jeff (James Stewart) spots a murder through his window, it becomes a visually impressive story of armchair detective work.
But what stops Rear window becoming a stale noir film version of Cluedo is the richness of the world it depicts. Far beyond being a dime novel mystery story, it is a tale of American society in the 1950s. It is about city life, the American dream, marriage, depression, loneliness and fear within a world rapidly changing. The flats that the audience peeks at through the window are home to people that symbolise the America of the 1950s – a world obsessed with image and perfection as opposed to reality. There is a songwriter struggling to make a hit, a lonely middle aged woman battling with depression, a newly married couple struggling with their newfound responsibilities, a young ballet dancer subject to endless advances from lecherous men and an older married couple realising that they don’t love each other. Hitchcock and writer John Hayes offer a character study, a thriller and a comment on American society’s flaws.
With the sprawling, fantastic film set of the apartment buildings and a main character that charms as well as well as aggravates, Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s best.