Wednesday, October 15, 2008

RETHINKING REAR WINDOW & GRACE KELLY & HITCHCOCK

 Boy was I wrong. I always put Rear Window (1954) on my ‘most overrated film list’. 

Along side other films that often appear on ‘Greatest Films of All-time Lists’. 

Films like StagecoachThe Searchers, the films of Godard (except Breathless), Jules and Jim, anything with Katherine Hepburn, Etc. I can understand their importance or artistic merits, but I never had the enthusiasm for them that others do. 

 But I recently rewatched Rear Window and oh baby, I was blown away. 

Maybe with age some flicks can be better understood. For instance, I always dug  Hitchcock’s Vertigo because I could always relate to obsession. But I  never really appreciated his Notorious, I thought it was pretty good, but it wasn’t until later in life, after I had experienced love (and heartbreak etc.) that I could fully relate to it. And now I hold it in high regard. 

 I recall that in the past I had found Rear Window a little ‘stagy’. Like a filmed play. But watching the newly restored Universal Legacy version on DVD I realized the film making technique Hitchcock used was a thing of beauty. 

 In the past I found the banter between James Stewart and (the great) Thelma Ritter to be lightweight comedy and time filling small talk. But this time I realized there was not a piece of dead weight in the streamlined script. Every moment was leading to the resolve. 

 Also perhaps where age helped me take a new view, was in the relationship 

between Stewart’s globe trotting photographer Jeff Jeffries and Grace Kelly’s shallow Paris Hilton like LisaJeff has apprehension about getting tied down with a Manhattan party girl who seems more interested in the latest fashions then the latest adventure. Personally being rather shallow and pathetic, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the beautiful Grace Kelly, but I can see where some of Lisa's attitudes are annoying. As opposed to the the aggressive San Francisco party girl Tippie Hedren plays in The Birds, at least Stewart’s Jeff doesn’t have to explain his choices, when his buddy the detective, 

Doyle keeps eyeing Lisa’s overnight bag and nightie sitting out. Jeff more or less tells Doyle “don’t you go there”. His attitude does shut down the married puritan cop from making hay that his war buddy gets to bang this lovely creature. Where as in The BirdsRod Taylor’s Mitch has to explain the appearance of Hedren’s Melanie Daniels to his uptight mother (Jessica Tandy), his nosey little sister (Veronica Cartwright) and the local sex starved spinster teacher (Suzanne Pleshette). Oh and birds are attacking and killing folks on the island ever since this wacky babe arrived.


The sexual tension in Rear Window and the incredible camera work is enough to excuse the corny Greenwich Village life that Stewart watches from his window. Again maybe getting older I can appreciate the truisms in the phases of relationships that are captured on Stewart’s ‘big screen TV’, no matter how cliched. 


Like most of Hitchcock’s best work it always fun to play spot the rip-offs, how many times in the years since have directors like Truffaut and De Palma... er, um...  “paid homage” to The Master, or the number of lesser films that directly stole from Rear Window (The Bedroom Window and Disturbia,  to name but a few). 

 But what makes Hitchcock’s version of events as opposed to De Palma’s de Sade-ian version, Body Double more amazing is how simple the thrills are (and the violence). It’s all a easy, carefully crafted step by step lead up to an exciting but not over the top payoff. Maybe what was lacking before for me was,  I was used to the extremeness of a De Palma and maybe I’m a prude now, but this week I’d take Stewart’s flashbulb defense any day to driller-killers.


Rewatching Rear Window I re-fell-in-love with the stunning Grace Kelly. Her first entrance in the film is as beautiful as any actress' intro I can think of (Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago comes to mind). She had a short lived film career that basically took place in the fifties. After doing a lot of television, Kelly played the wife in High Noon (regrettably another film I find ‘overrated’). She then did Hitchcock’s 3-D Dial M For Murder and the dull GardnerGable three-way sudsy bore, 

Mogambo.


 And then Kelly won an Oscar for The Country Wife. Which I went and watched for the first time. There’s a lot to admire in the ‘54 drama. It’s a challenging downer of a script, based on a play by the “realistic” playwright Clifford Odets, and it too often feels like watching a play. Two or three actor scenes are drably shot in little rooms that feel like obviously sets. Grace plays the manipulative but later heroic wife of a washed up drunk ‘actor’, Bing Crosby who comes off more like a retarded sad sack version of Mister Rogers then a trouble making boozer.  

He gets one last chance at redemption starring on Broadway in superstar director William Holden’s latest opus. Which looks like the worst play of all time, a lefty musical, apparently about salt of the earth types dancing about in overalls. 

 The flick makes no sense, about a third into it, Holden and the dour Kelly declare their love for each other and though it’s a relief to the otherwise somber going-ons, I never saw any hint they had affection for each other, other then the fact that they’re the two best looking people in the movie. Interesting, I guess this was Kelly’s Monster Ball, she plays ‘ugly’ which means hot, but not movie star ‘hot’. Actually in her unglamorous frocks, but still careful photographed she kinda reminded me a little of a young Ingrid Bergman, in the films where she too was supposed to look a little less then Goddess.

 As much as I can appreciate flicks about washed-up drunken actors torturing the beautiful woman who love them, the film only rates as a curio because of the cast. Ironically enough Kelly won the Oscar beating out the much more deserving Judy Garland for her brilliant performance in A Star Is Born, where she too played the wife of a drunk actor, it helps that she got to share the screen with the much more believable heel, the terrific James Mason.


After finding my new love for Rear Window , I also rewatched Hitchcock’s follow up To Catch A Thief. His third go in a row with Kelly as his muse. Other then the interesting French Riviera images shot in VistaVision and the always entertaining Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, so adorable. This is a not very suspenseful suspense flick. Grant is trying to prove to Kelly he’s not the famous Cat Burglar and Kelly falls in love with him, though he barely shows any interest in her. It’s obvious that the French girl is the McGuffin. It feels a little over-cooked, cleaver dialog does not really cover the awkward plot. It kinda plays as a “best off’ 

Hitchcock - mystery, suspense, glamor, romance- but it never really fully succeeds more then adequately on any of those levels. 

 The most interesting aspect is the fact that Grace Kelly is just so stunning in it. 

To Catch A Thief  joins The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) as really just a overblown location flick that helped to lead Hitchcock to his perfect ‘Adventure-Comedy’ North By Northwest.


 I hate knocking my man The Hitch, cause other then Billy Wilder and maybe the pre-'92 Woody Allen, no director has more flicks on my personal favorite list. 


Maybe Rear Window will my favorite Hitchcock list, along with the aforementioned Notorious (1946), Vertigo  (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and The Birds (1963). As well as Strangers on a Train (1951) Frenzy (1972) and most of Psycho (1960) up until that last horrible  explanation speech.

 I plan on reevaluating Rebecca (1940) and Spellbound (1945) soon. 

Until then my next tear of Hitchcock would include... (I obviously have no appreciation for his pre-Hollywood flicks, perhaps I’ll give them a new looking-over as well) Suspicion (1941), Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948) and Topaz (1969). I also have some newly formed affection for The Trouble with Harry (1955). I kinda admire the mess that is Marnie (1964), which was intended as a Grace Kelly vehicle tell she went and married some rich A-hole Prince. I think Torn Curtain (1966) kinda sucks, but it does have one of the best fight scenes of all time. And though it doesn’t hold up, as a kid I loved the pretty lame Family Plot (1976). 

 So there. I now really love Rear Window and if not ‘love’, really like Grace Kelly

I mean like-like.


- sweeneyrules


6 comments:

jhstrega7 said...

This was a great acknowledgement of Grace Kelly. I may be outing myself as totally obtuse here, but I remember seeing Rear Window for the first time in an English Lit/Film class and our teacher asked us to analyze why Jeff doesn't seem to be in a hurry to marry Lisa, who is obviously perfection incarnate. He said this right before film's start and the question has perplexed me to this day. Again, I may be outing myself as completely obtuse - I still do not know why Jeff is indifferent to a woman who represents PERFECTION (by every definition of the word)??? Hitch obviously wanted us to ponder this - and surely only the extraordinary GK could play Lisa - since nothing he did was gratuitous. Must view again...FAST!

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