If only the real world was as transparent as the theme behind this mystery thriller, perhaps we’d truly get to understand the people that we call our neighbors. Hitchcock’s first film for Paramount Pictures is set within a lively apartment complex in the heart of Greenwich Village, specifically the home of an injured photographer played by none other than Jimmy Stewart. The third of four films they collaborated on, this is undoubtedly Stewart’s finest role and arguably the film that he is most remembered for. Refined to the awkward confines of a high cast and a wheelchair, Stewart passes the time by gazing out the window in hopes to find some kind of amusement or inspiration. What he finds instead is more disturbing, as there’s one neighbor who’s been acting suspiciously while his wife hasn’t been seen in days. Armed with his telescope he begins to unravel the mystery, yet due to injury he needs his confidants to help prove his sensational theory, yet of course they only believe that he’s in need of some fresh air.
The crowning jewel of the film is without question the supporting cast that makes up the residents of the apartment complex, all of whom have distinct personalities that have compelling stories of their own. From Miss. Lonelyhearts to Miss. Torso there are an abundance of meaningful subplots that complement the general theme, including a pair of newlyweds and a quirky couple that cherish and adore their unforgettable friendly dog. Miss Lonelyhearts character in particular is exceptionally moving as throughout the film she endures excruciating heartbreak, only to later find joy through the music of a struggling musician that lives a few floors above her. I’d be remiss not to mention that Hitchcock’s patented cameo involving the musician is a nice touch, as it’s one of his more memorable appearances that were always worth looking forward to. Nonetheless it is Mr. Thorwald played menacingly by Raymond Burr that captivates Stewart the most, as his suspicious behavior is more than likely to be the tell tale signs of murder.
Yet despite the intel he gathered from his window Stewart needs more evidence, in which case he relies on a nurse (Thelma Ritter), a detective (Thomas Doyle), and his beautiful socialite girlfriend played by none other than the magnificent Grace Kelly. Similar to Stewart, Ms. Kelly had worked with Hitchcock before, however this was her second of three collaborations before she married the Prince of Morocco and retired from acting altogether. In any case this was a spectacular performance from Kelly, as her elegance and gentility is breathtaking in every frame. One memorable scene involves an unforgettable embrace between Kelly and Stewart, in which the subtle dialogue between each kiss is poetic as it encapsulates their clashing agendas in spite of their unconditional love. As Kelly exemplifies the finest quality of grandeur, Stewart believes (half-heartedly) that he could never be with a lady so dignified and beautiful, suggesting that his modest taste would be no match for her life of luxury. Perhaps at the time Greenwich Village was more moderate than it is today, yet regardless the distinction between himself and 5th Avenue is evident, as Stewart and his neighbors together personify a more casual serenity that gives new meaning to the “city that never sleeps.”
As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Burr is indeed the sinner that Stewart makes him out to be, and soon his friends and associates become equally invested in finding justice at any cost. At one point Burr catches Kelly inside his apartment as she looks for evidence of the missing woman, only to be saved by the police while she ever so surreptitiously signals to Stewart through the window that she’s wearing the woman’s wedding ring. She proves to not be cautious enough however, as Burr notices this gesture and begins to focus on Stewart as he becomes aware that he’s been under a watchful eye all along. As Ritter leaves to bail Kelly out of jail for trespassing, Stewart is left alone and makes the error of assuming that Doyle is on the other end of the phone when in fact it’s Burr who’s called, revealing his cover altogether. In the climactic scene Stewart fends off Burr with the blinding effect of flashbulbs from his camera (symbolic of his character although I admit a stretch in this case), and winds up being thrown from the same window that he became all too familiar with. Appropriately the film ends with Stewart back in his apartment with two broken legs, in the company of Kelly by his side who proved herself to be more his contemporary than he originally gave her credit for. As the camera pans across the rest of the complex, it becomes clear that the rest of the neighbors are moving on with their lives as well, perhaps emphasizing the events as only one of the eight million stories that can come and go in a new york minute.