Movie Review: Rear Window (1954) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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REAR WINDOW MOVIE POSTER
REAR WINDOW, 1954
Movie Reviews

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly
Review by Matthew Toffolo

SYNOPSIS:

The adventuresome free-lance photographer L.B (Jeff) Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) finds himself confined to a wheelchair in his tiny apartment while a broken leg mends. With only the occasional distraction of a visiting nurse and his frustrated love interest (Grace Kelly), a beautiful fashion consultant, his attention is naturally drawn to the courtyard outside his “rear window” and the occupants of the apartment buildings which surround it. Soon he is consumed by the private dramas of his neighbors lives which play themselves out before his eyes.

REVIEW:

“We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms.” says Stella, the every day nurse who’s taking care of L.B. while he’s chair ridden with a broken leg. L.B. is a type-A personality, always looking for then next adventure. He’s now stuck in his apartment for months and needs to do something. So he takes to spying on his neighbors across the street in their apartments. And this is when he notices something suspicious. A man’s wife has suddenly disappeared.

This is a film with plots and themes that still hold true to today. In fact so true Hollywood decided to make a quasi remake of this film called DISTURBIA, a huge hit in the spring of 2007. Instead of the middle aged man spying on the city life, that film was about a teenage kid spying on the Suburban world.

If America became a race of Peeping Toms in 1954, I guess in 2007 it was still going strong. Society is all about wanting to know what others are doing as one prime example of that is the still popular Reality TV programs. It’s curiosity at its core. It’s why we watch movies, TV and listen to the radio. As we live our life, we entertain ourselves by watching and hearing stories about what others are doing.

For the Jimmy Stewart character, he needs to fill his usual quota of being entertained. So the only way he can do it with his confinement is to watch the neighbors. If it was 10 years later, he probably would of just gotten hooked on the day time Soaps. In 1954 he’s hooked on the people living in the apartment across the street from him. It’s what he needs to do to get by.

Visiting him often is Lisa, his love interest who wants him to settle down and be her man. He’s not that type of guy and that’s there conflict. She loves him but doesn’t love or understand the way he lives his life. He’s the journalist always living in a suitcase hoping from town to town wherever the story is. Even when he’s locked up in his apartment, he needs to find his story. She tries to take advantage of him being in just the one place to convince him to settle down, but he’s not interested in her as he wants to know what the neighbors are doing.

What happens is what happens in any situation where the dominant personality is around. She’s taken into his world and his obsessions and soon she also become infatuated with what happened with the neighbors wife. An the mutual adventure begins all in a room in an apartment building.

Alfred Hitchcock is a master of suspense. This time he must capture the suspense with just a man looking through windows with his binoculars. And he does it masterfully. Any up and coming filmmakers should take a look at this film and see how much excitement can be built with so little. And we’re completely involved on these people and their relationship with one another. As they spy on the neighbors, Hitchcock films it in the voyeuristic way like we’re spying on them. So as they feel guilty for spying, we the audience can’t help but feel a tad guilty too because we’re just as interested as they are and we want them to keep going.

Films made in Hollywood today can’t be as subtle and leisurely as this film is. A great example to see how movies has changed (in a good or bad way is your interpretation) is to watch this film and then watch Disturbia. The film’s plot is basically the same but the scenes are filmed to give the audience its suspense is completely different. It’s just the way it is now.

Hitchcock made Thriller/Suspense movies, but he also essentially made dramas, comedies and character studies too. You leave Rear Window knowing exactly what happened and knowing exactly who these characters were. Without revealing any of the major plot, the film ends exactly like it started. Another adventure has happened and the two leads are still faced with the same conflict. These are characters who didn’t have a life altering experience. It’s business as usual for them. Hollywood these days seems to always want to tell do or die stories where the characters will never be the same again. That’s fine, but it’s also refreshing to watch films like these where movies are reality mixed in with a lot of drama.

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Movie Review: DIAL M FOR MUDER (1954) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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DIAL M FOR MURDER MOVIE POSTER
DIAL M FOR MURDER, 1954
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

An ex-tennis pro carries out a plot to murder his wife. When things go wrong, he improvises a brilliant plan B

REVIEW:

Alfred Hitchcock is known as “The Master of Suspense.” This is true when it comes to the film world. In the literary world, no one was a better suspense writer than Frederick Knott. So when the mater of literary suspense had his play optioned by the master of cinematic suspense, a quality movie was sure to be produced. It was in the form of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful picture, Dial M For Murder (1954).

Unlike in other movies adapted from literary works, Hitchcock didn’t tinker with the successful stage play Knott had written. There are a few Hitchcock touches, like stalling the climatic murder sequence by having Ray Milland’s watch stop and then having him wait to make a phone call as someone is using the phone booth. All this heightens the suspense as the audience waits, paralyzed to see if Grace Kelly will be murdered.

One of the most poignant Hitchcock touches comes at the very beginning. We see Milland kiss Kelly in a standard, everyday, run-of-the mill kiss given by a wife to a husband before he leaves for work. When the American, Mark, arrives on the screen he has a passionate kiss for Kelly. Without words we know the relationship of the three main characters of the story. That is a standard device employed by Hitchcock. It allows the audience to see the exposition quickly at the beginning of the movie and does not have it intrude on the story. Much like his cameo appearances. He appears here in a photograph Tony shows Charles Swann. It appears about 20 minutes into the picture.

Knott’s story is not that original. A husband wants to kill his wealthy wife for the insurance money. It is the motive in countless suspense or mystery stories. What makes this so suspenseful is that Ray Milland’s character, Tony, sets out how the murder will be committed. From there the audience is hooked as to how everything should go. It is up to Knott and in the movie Hitchcock to introduce devices that stall the plan and make the audience squirm as they wait for Grace Kelly to be murdered. It is suspense at its most basic, but most brilliant. A key aspect to making the suspense work is the way Ray Milland acts. He is a suave criminal who is completely confident in his ability. He meticulously blackmails common criminal Charles Swann, played by Anthony Dawson, to help him murder his wife. Throughout the picture, the audience wants Tony to be successful. He has gotten us to believe that murder is a perfectly innocent thing to do, like buying a car.

Another interesting aspect of this movie is that it was released in 3D. Just like today, in the 1950s the 3D craze was in. Most famously The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) was shot in this way. Hitchcock had amazing foresight, one of the qualities which make his movies so wonderful for today’s audiences, and felt that the 3D craze was just a fad. In order to not ruin his movie, but still give in to the 3D crazy studio bosses,

Hitchcock used to form sparingly, but effectively. The most breathtaking example of 3D occurred while Grace Kelly was being strangled. At one point she reaches back for a pair of scissors. For an audience watching this in 3D it seemed like she was reaching out at them. In today’s prints without the 3D, the shot is still stunning. Ray Milland gives a great performance. As does Grace Kelly, who seems unaware of the whole thing. Robert Cummings as Mark, the American, is good in a supporting role. As is detective, and constant Hitchcock supporting actor, John Williams.

Anyone interested in the art of suspense needs to see this movie. It should be taught in film and writing classes as textbook examples of how to manipulate an audience.

 

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Movie Review: TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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TO CATCH A THIEF MOVIE POSTER
TO CATCH A THIEF, 1955
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Grace Kelly
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

American expatriate John Robie living in high style on the Riviera is a retired cat burglar. He must find out who a copy cat is to keep a new wave of jewel thefts from being pinned on him. High on list of prime victims is Jessie Stevens, in Europe to help daughter Frances find a suitable husband. Lloyds of London insurance agent is using a thief to catch a thief. Take an especially close look at scene where Robie gets Jessie’s attention, dropping an expensive casino chip down decolletage of French roulette player.

REVIEW:

The French Riviera is the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955). This movie is beloved by audiences and typically dismissed by film theorists and critics. The disappointment expressed by critics is understandable. But so is the joy coming from any audience that watches.

In this movie we see the French Riviera at its best. Robert Burks won an Academy Award for his color cinematography. Grace Kelly is cool, charming and elegant. This is one of her best performances and probably the best of her three Hitchcock films. The others being Dial M for Murder (1954) and Rear Window (1954). Cary Grant is also great in this movie. He always gave great performances when working for Hitch, but this one is special. These are the reasons why audiences enjoy To Catch a Thief.

The story is the main reason why theorists and critics dismiss it. It revolves around a series of burglaries. Grant plays John Robie, also known as The Cat. Robie used to be a great cat burglar, specializing in jewelry. He became a well-respected hero during World War II though when he joined the Resistance against the Nazis. His good name is being dragged through the mud when a new cat burglar takes to the streets stealing jewelry. Of course everyone believes Robie is the one doing all the taking.

He is able to avoid the police in the opening sequence of the film. He ends up on a passenger bus into town. This is where Hitchcock makes one of his best cameo appearances, be sure to check it out.

Once in town Robie goes around to old friends to see what they can dig up about the new cat burglar. They don’t give him much and he makes his way to the hotels on the Riviera. His only ally seems to be insurance agent Hughson, played by Hitchcock stalwart John Williams. Hughson’s priority is to insure the jewelry of a wealthy American woman who is on vacation with her daughter, Francie, played by Kelly.

Here Robie and Francie fall in love. Francie seems fascinated by Robie’s former career as a burglar. The mystery and suspense is put on the backburner as the two stars’ romance develops. Although there is a daring car chase in which Kelly drives through the winding hills of the Riviera. This is an eerie scene to watch considering what would happen to Kelly later when she became Princess of Monaco.

Now, I’m not someone who thinks there should be suspense in every scene or that romance has no place in a mystery film, but the techniques Hitchcock uses are not very original. This is one of the reasons why I’m not a huge fan of this movie. For instance there is a scene where Kelly and Grant are kissing. That is intercut with fireworks. I haven’t seen that this month. I guess I just expect something different from a technical pioneer like Hitchcock.

The mystery gets started again as the romance gets hotter. The climax of the movie takes place at a costume party. Edith Head did a marvelous job in designing the costumes for this movie. She did a great job on costume design for all movies she did, but the gowns she designed for Grace Kelly in the three Hitchcock pictures are ones that stand out. Hitch loved working with her and all the leading ladies adored her designs. The most suspense in the movie comes during a rooftop chase. This is well done and adds something new to the Hitchcock cannon, but it is not the reason why people watch To Catch a Thief. This scene, and really the whole movie, needs to be watched on the big screen. That way you can fully appreciate the gorgeous cinematography of Robert Burks and the great gowns of Edith Head.

One of the main reasons why I disliked the movie is that I knew who the cat burglar was early on. I’m not sure if other people will figure it out that quick, but if they do then it could be a long ride to knowing that you are right. Not that there isn’t great scenery and great acting to help pass the time. It’s just that I expected a little bit more from Alfred Hitchcock.

 

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