Release Year: 1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: John Michael Hayes (screenplay), Cornell Woolrich (based on his 1942 short story “It Had to Be Murder”)
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Judith Evelyn, Ross Bagdasarian, Georgine Darcy
Rating: Nominated for 4 Oscars: Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography – Color, Best Sound – Recording.
Photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is wheelchair-bound due to a broken leg and passes the time by spying on his neighbours. What he sees in the flat opposite his convinces him that a murder has been committed and he enlists the help of his girlfriend (Grace Kelly), nurse (Thelma Ritter), and army-buddy (Wendell Corey) to catch the killer.
Admit it – you have taken a peep at what your neighbours were up to at some point in your life, or at least thought about doing it. Voyeurism is not only creepy, it is also immoral, but in true Hitchcock style, expectations are subverted in this 1954 masterpiece. In fact, the voyeur in question is our hero, played the intrinsically likable James Stewart (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962). Stewart plays an adventurous photographer who has broken is leg in an audacious attempt to photograph a car race from the middle of the track. Bored out of his mind he passes the time by watching the many neighbouring flats he can see from his window. It starts innocently to the exasperation of his nurse, Stella, played by the great Thelma Ritter (Pillow Talk, 1959), but she quickly gets involved together with Jefferies’s high society sweetheart, Lisa, played by Grace Kelly (To Catch a Thief, 1955), when he spots a neighbour who suddenly behaves strange after his wife seemingly disappears. Despite Hitchcock’s dislike of actors, he had a knack for drawing great performances from them, and Stewart gives one of his best ones her. Sitting in a chair throughout the film and not really doing anything, he conveys so much with very little. The film is one of many showcases of Hitchcock’s trademark talent for building suspense and despite most of the action being set in one room it has more than one heart-stopping moments. The script is penned by John Michael Hayes, who wrote a number of Hitchcock’s 1950s films, deserves special mention. A big part of the film’s first half is just people talking, but it is never dull or trite, not a single conversation feels like filler, nor does its observations feel forced or tacked one. Another valuable player is the ingenious set-piece. A ton of suspense packed into a brilliant construction single courtyard.A film one cannot help returning to again and again and one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces. Unmissable!
According to Thelma Ritter Alfred Hitchcock never told an actor whether he liked what you did in a scene or not. Instead, if he wasn’t pleased he would look like he was about to be sick.
Hitchcock and Stewart did a total of four films together (Rope (1948), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and this). Although they never socialised outside of work, the two had a close friendship and Hitchcock was able to communicate to Stewart what he wanted him to do simply by looking at him.
Picture Copyright: UIP