Summer Classics: ‘Rear Window’ endures as a Hitchcock masterpiece

Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart in 'Rear Window.'

Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart in ‘Rear Window.’

Some films that make it onto the Kentucky Theatre’s Summer Classics series took time to develop their classic status, or even went out of favor for a while.

That was never the case with Rear Window (1954), which shows at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Kentucky ($6 admission). The Alfred Hitchcock mystery starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly was an instant classic, critics immediately ranking it atop the by-then-influential director’s work. The movie tells the story of a photographer, Jeff (Stewart), who is laid up with a broken leg after an accident on the job. He passes time during a summer heatwave watching his neighbors in his apartment complex through binoculars and a telephoto lens.

An incident one night and some of that surveillance convinces Jeff one neighbor, played by Raymond Burr, killed his wife, and through the rest of the movie Jeff and his girlfriend Lisa (Kelly) and nurse (Thelma Ritter) work to solve the mystery. If you ever thought about using a camera flash to ward off an attacker, you probably saw Rear Window.

While Rear Window never fell out of favor, it was one of five Hitchcock films that fell out of circulation for a long time. Hitchcock was powerful enough at this point in his career, his contract with Paramount Pictures stipulated that ownership of several movies he made for the studio reverted to him eight years after their release. He eventually took all four of those films — Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958) — out of circulation, along with Rope (1948), of which he retained ownership through another avenue.

While other Hitchcock classics such as Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) were seen regularly on TV and in revival houses, these films went mostly unseen through the 1970s until Universal Pictures negotiated the rights to them in the early 1980s, re-releasing them theatrically and on home video. The latter medium was particularly important to introducing the movies to a new generation of film lovers. I distinctly remember me and my friends making a point of catching all of these re-releases as Universal put them out, and Rear Window and Vertigo clearly stood out as the classics that they were. (I thought about Rope a lot this past year as people went gaga over Birdman‘s extended shots, and I was recalling, ‘Hitchcock did this thing decades ago.’)

I never would have suspected this from Hitch, but Rear Window contains the sexiest scene I have ever seen in a movie: Kelly’s entrance, waking Stewart from a late afternoon nap with a slow-motion kiss and some playful repartee. Everyone should get to wake up like that once.

Like I said, a lot of us first experienced Rear Window on videotape (I actually bought Rear Window on Beta and still have the tape). If you have yet to see it on the big screen, this is your chance.

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