Rear Window (Paramount), just possibly the second most entertaining picture (after The 39 Steps) ever made by Alfred Hitchcock, is the movie equivalent of what boxing circles call "the handkerchief trick." The trick, as Philadelphia's Tommy Loughran used to play it, is simply to plant both feet on a standard-size pocket handkerchief, fold both hands behind the back, and fight a full three-minute round against a free-moving opponent without once taking the feet off the handkerchief.
In Rear Window, Director Hitchcock plants his camera on the esthetic handkerchief of a second-floor back room in Greenwich Village, to which a photographer (James Stewart )for one of the big picture magazines is confined with a broken leg. Inside the room the camera moves freely, but whenever it looks out the rear window, it is permitted to see only what the hero can see.
Drawn Blinds. The hero can see just about everything that goes on in the six or eight flats that rump into the same areaway as his, and Hitchcock, in a masterpiece of indirect exposition, lets the moviegoer play Peeping Tom until all at once he sees something that strikes him aswell, peculiar. That burly salesman in the second-floor flat of the modern apartment building, the one who so patiently nurses the complaining invalid wifewhy does he make a number of trips out into the rain, one at 2 a.m., carrying his sample-suitcase? And why, all the next day, does he not go into the bedroom to see his wife? And why do the Venetian blinds in the bedroom stay drawn?
The photographer grabs his binoculars to take a closer look, hauls out his telephoto lens to get right down to fine pointssuch as a saw and a carving knife the salesman is meticulously wrapping in newspaper beside the kitchen sink.
By this time the moviegoer is about to drop his eyeballs out the window, and Hitchcock starts to tease. The photographer's girl friend (Grace Kelly), a high-fashion publicist, runs a pretty French seam of kisses down the Stewart profile; the ballerina in the lower-left corner of the camera's eye further cuts the sleuthing down to thighs; and the newlyweds in the third floor across the way keep threatening to dramatize every old joke about newlyweds. The beauty of it is that all Hitchcock's pandering is done with such wit and grace that the moviegoer may almost feel that Hitchcock is appealing to his better instincts.
There is, of course, a gory good finish, with Stewart standing off the murderer (Raymond Burr) with a barrage of popping flashbulbs, and somebody remarking that an important piece of evidence can be found in a hatbox. But the best of it is the moment in which Hitchcock dares to break his climax wide open to get a laugh and gets away with it. When the New York cops run to the rescue, the film, just for an instant, runs in fast motion, producing a constabular celerity that has not been observed since the days of the Keystone Kops.