“He killed a dog last night because the dog was scratching around in the garden. You know why? Because he had something buried in that garden that the dog scented.”
“Like an old hambone?”
“I don't know what pet names Thorwald had for his wife.”
So goes the exchange between wheelchair-bound L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) and Detective Lt. Doyle (Wendall Corey), wherein “Jeff” tries to convince his old Army buddy that neighbor Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) has killed his wife. Shot on the largest indoor set built at Paramount Studios at the time, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic, Rear Window, required months of pre-production work and construction of the 31 apartments comprising the complex where Jeffries lives. Except for a very few brief segments, the entire film was shot from Jeff’s apartment, from which he watches [read: spies on] the daily lives of other apartment dwellers through his window. Of course, he witnesses what he believes is a murder, and shares his shocking discovery with his socialite girlfriend, delightfully played by the lovely Miss Grace Kelly, and his gruff-but-loyal physical therapist Stella (Thelma Ritter).
Rear Window was voted #1 mystery by members of IMDB, the Internet Movie Data Base, proving its endearment to mystery lovers. The runner up, 1995’s The Usual Suspects, couldn’t be a more different film, with its high body count and fast-moving, multiple character story-lines. Like most modern films, Suspects makes use of a multitude of locales, camera angles and high-action settings, in sharp contrast to Hitchcock’s virtually single-setting picture. Yet both films are considered mysteries, both contain elements mystery movie buffs crave: surprises, twists and humans in peril. Questions arise, such as the most often asked, “Who dunit?” or “Where is the body?” – How about, “Who is he—really?”
Does there need to be a hero? Certainly, Jimmy Stewart is much beloved as Window’s reluctant protagonist, charming audiences with his dry wit and wheelchair antics. Under his lead, John Michael Hayes’ screenplay becomes a “cozy” mystery of sorts. Stewart, whose character is a pro photographer, becomes the amateur sleuth during his temporary convalescence, and viewers easily embrace his suspicions and theories.
The enduring popularity of Rear Window confirms that [intelligent, IMO] movie-goers don’t need the high action, overt violence or CG effects so prolific in today’s “mysteries” in order to be entertained. Thank goodness for American Movie Classics and Netflix!
Note: Rear Window was based on short story "Murder From a Fixed Viewpoint" by Cornell Woolrich, who was considered to be a pioneer of what has come to be known as "noir" fiction. According to Wikipedia, the story was later re-titled "It Had to Be Murder", and was published under pen name, "William Irish". Woolrich counted as his peers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.