Stella: We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. Yes sir. How’s that for a bit of homespun philosophy?
F: Yes a couple of times.
R: Half a dozen times maybe? Not so long ago I would tell people this was my favourite film.
F: Hitchcock again! This feels more in the vein of classic suspense that people may expect from him compared to North By Northwest. It’s slow to get going though don’t you think?
R: Compared to the last film on the list this opens at light speed! But yes there’s a lot of talking while the scene is set. I always enjoy the dialogue though; while it’s not as naturalistic as you get in more recent films, it does an excellent job of introducing the two key players and the state of their relationship.
F: Yes the dialogue is very witty which isn’t what I automatically think of when I think of Hitchcock. And the slow start allows the tension to build effectively to that finale.
R: Absolutely. And I think really the mystery of what’s happening outside the apartment’s rear window is secondary to the romantic conundrum between Grace Kelly’s Lisa Fremont and James Stewart’s L. B. Jefferies. It’s not so much a story of voyeurism as it is about them figuring out if their relationship can work. And all their scenes together are really pretty special.
F: Yes they’re the heart of the film and I really like Stewart and Kelly together. This is the first Jimmy Stewart film, of five, in the list – all in the top half! He’s such a likeable actor that I’m not surprised but I do think he is surrounded here by a great supporting cast, particularly Grace Kelly. Thelma Ritter as Jefferies’ nurse gets all the best lines though!
R: What do you think about the overall story? I think the main reason I no longer call this one of my favourite films is because the ending feels a little rushed.
F: I think that’s probably what I meant by the slow start – it maybe goes on too long so I agree the ending all happens quite quickly. The change in pace is very effective though. Even though it’s no longer your favourite film, is this still your favourite Hitchcock?
R: It’s certainly a great showcase of what makes Hitchcock such an important director, and it’s easy while you’re watching it to forget that this came out way back in 1954. But this isn’t quite Hitchcock at the peak of his powers: the likes of Vertigo and Psycho are even better I reckon. But it was probably the best film he’d directed at this point in his career – we get a lot more depth to the characters than you see in earlier films like Stage Fright or Strangers On A Train, but it’s just as tense – if not more so.
F: I’m a big fan of The 39 Steps (mainly because it was the first Hitchcock I saw) as one of his early films but agree this is probably the best at the time. And going back to those slow starts, Psycho takes a while of course before we get to the Bates Motel! Seems to me this is the basis which he then built on to make those bona fide masterpieces you mention above.
R: It’s probably a sign of Hitchcock’s growing confidence at this stage in his career as a director that he takes that time to lay all the groundwork in that unhurried way. It’s of course key to building the tension, and giving us characters we worry about.
F: And gives us those classic scenes! I love the staging when Jefferies is watching helpless from the window. I’m impressed how the entire film takes place in one room, by one window even. Shows how you don’t need big budgets and big location shots to make something truly iconic.
R: I guess most of the film’s budget went on the star actors – and as it’s ultimately the performances that make this such a timeless classic I’d say it was money well spent!
Is it worthy of the top 100?
F: 100% yes.
47 – A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
49 – Intolerance (1916)