You didn’t see the killing or the body. How do you know there was a murder?
I first saw this film when I was quite young and although I remembered very little about it, I suddenly wanted to see it again! It is incredibly well regarded amongst critics and audiences, thought of as one of Hitchcock’s best films, and one of the best films of all time. This meant when I watched it the film had a LOT to live up to and I have to say it did not disappoint.
The film is about L. B. Jeffries (James Stewart) looking out of his window whilst convalescing from a broken leg. By doing this, he witnesses the comings and goings of people in apartments opposite, such as ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ (Judith Evelyn), ‘Miss Torso’ (Georgine Darcy), ‘The Songwriter’, and most significantly the Thorbald couple (Raymond Burr and Irene Winston). Jeffries believes he has witnessed Lars Thorbald murder his wife, and he watches to try and work out what Thorbald has done. He has the help of his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), and his detective friend Doyle (Wendell Corey) as together they try to piece together what they know. The film reaches a thrilling conclusion, I won’t spoil too much, but the last 20 minutes or so has you on the edge of your seat!
The film is shot entirely from the point of view of Jeffries looking out the window (except for shots inside his apartment) which makes the audience feel like they too are spying on their neighbours. The film is famous for its voyeuristic theme, and this is certainly unavoidable. You only see the neighbours from Jeffries’ view which does separate you from them and make you relate to Jeffries. This does not mean however it is a one dimensional film. The characters of Jeffries and Lisa are excellently acted by Stewart and Kelly, and you understand the characters and their feelings. Because of the nature of the film, it’s length and relatively slow pace, it gives you time to get to know the characters. This is also true for Stella the nurse, as her bluntness expressed what we were all thinking! The film makes it feel like we know the characters of Jeffries etc. and means we see the neighbours purely from his perspective, which is the fundamental dynamic of the film. You do become invested in the lives of the neighbours, such as Miss Lonelyhearts, and the couple with the dog, but only as observers. The neighbours add another dimension to the film whose main plot is surrounding the Thorbalds.
Although some may be sceptical that this can work as a film, all I can say is that it really really does! After all it hasn’t gone down in history for nothing….After a gentle start, the tension increases and increases and makes the audience as keen as Jeffries to find out what has been happening. He is restricted to watching out the window to find out, whilst we are restricted to watching the screen, something that really makes Jeffries’ character relatable. The frustration felt by him when explaining his theories of the murder to his sceptical audience is felt by the viewers as we too have seen what he sees. I cannot praise this film enough and if anyone hasn’t seen it (as if anyone hasn’t…) then watch it now!