Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hell Bound (1957)

The Times They Are a-Changing.

Noir's thorny Road to Perdition was a long and complicated one. Noir has always been a slippery concept and defining it can be very problematic, after all it was a label retrospectively applied. The nonexistence of Noir as a production category during its heyday obviously problematizes the history of the genre.  When did it begin and what was its swan song? To me the general consensus of it lasting from 1941-1958 is capricious. 

We could argue now that, like Elvis, Noir never really died. Foster Hirsch does exactly that in his book Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir (p.15 et al.). In the same vein C. Jerry Kutner maintains in his article Beyond the Golden Age: Film Noir Since the ’50s for Bright Lights Journal that “there is no ‘neo-noir’, there is no ‘proto-noir’, there is only Noir”. If we see Noir as a worldview, a mood, a tone and a general feeling of malaise while disregarding the historical context I’d agree with this assessment. As long as there is life on this planet, there will be existential dread, doom, paranoia, obsessive love and despair. 

It is a different matter when we talk about the Classic Noir cycle. By the late 50s Noir's halcyon days were over and the genre was without a doubt coming to a fork in the road. It’s very hard to nail down exactly when Classic Noir was laid to rest, if it was at all. Some maintain it breathed its last in 1958 in a little Mexican border town helped along by a fat corrupt sheriff, others say it was blown to smithereens in a refinery explosion outside New York in 1959. My brilliant academic research unearthed conclusive evidence for a different scenario (in other words, I had this epiphany after an all-night bender. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it). The last vestiges of Classic Noir hemorrhaged to death one night in the shower of a run-down motel room, its sins washed down the drain forever. We all know the culprit and he can deny the accusations till the cows come home, we know better.

There have been quite a few reported sightings during the 60s and every time people thought they’d buried Noir, every time the coffin stayed empty. But by now Noir’s trajectory had changed. Noir tropes mean nothing when they stray too far from their original message. Noir has always been more than just men in fedoras and dames in fabulous outfits. It was a reflection of its time and as such it is hard to replicate because the historical and societal circumstances that made it possible are not present anymore (WWII and its lingering aftereffects, returning veterans, postwar disillusionment, HUAC, the A bomb and McCarthyism). Nothing happens in a vacuum. Classic Noir loses its soul when it is removed from its time and place in history, and certain historical events are always at the very least subtext in Classic Noir. Paul Schrader wrote in his seminal article Notes on Film Noir
“You can't pull a style out from its roots and the roots of Film Noir are World War II, German Expressionism, Existentialism and Freud as they were filtered into pop culture."
Noir needed to be slyly subversive to get its point across. It needed the Code and got its distinctive look and sound when it was skirting censorship rules. By the late 50s the Production Code was eroding, the once-powerful studio system was coming apart at the seams. Independent Producers gained hold and they could - just like Poverty Row Studios - much more easily challenge taboo subjects, because they were less under the microscope of scrutiny by the guardians of morality. Their under-the-radar B-ness and an anything-goes approach often eluded the censors. At the end of the cycle, Noir’s DNA was mutating.

On her fabulous website The Last Drive In Jo Gabriel writes in her article Film Noir: Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter
“Film Noir had an inevitable trajectory…the eccentric and often gutsy style of Film Noir had nowhere else to go…but to reach for even more off-beat, deviant, endlessly risky and taboo oriented set of narratives found in the subversive and exploitative cult films of the mid to late 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s.”
Spot on. My friend Joe over at Noirsville phrased it like this: 
“With nothing really giving some of these directors and producers some parameters, or putting the brakes on, there was no speed limit, they just shot past the limits of contemporary common sense, cultural acceptability and good taste.” 
Films that went too far showing violence would then be classified as horror or thriller, those that went too far depicting sex, drugs and torture were being lumped together as Exploitation.
What had happened? The 60s happened, but that is a discussion I will bore you with another time, kids.

As of now it is 1957 and Hell Bound is full of pulpy seedy goodness. Made on a quarter, if not a dime, it has everything a proper B Noir should have. Sexy dames, suggestive situations, good dialogue, harsh violence and a soundtrack by Les Baxter. 

Clocking in at under 70 minutes, this low-renter doesn’t overstay its welcome. Director William J. Hole, whose career was largely an undistinguished one, worked almost exclusively in television and Hell Bound was his only Noir. It’s a lurid wallow in the lower depths of American life. So often these little cheapos are better than they have any right to be. Low budget is not a crime until it meets low scriptwriting, bad acting and awful dialogue. And thankfully we don’t get that here.

John Russell plays ruthless Jordan, the mastermind of a surplus narcotics heist worth $2 million from a cargo ship. His plan is as follows: the cargo ship picks up a bogus seaman found adrift as the sole “survivor” of a bogus fishing boat accident. The ship has to be put under quarantine, the seaman steals the drugs and puts them in the coat pocket of an on-the-take diabetic health inspector called in to check up on the “seaman”. A phony nurse, Russell’s girlfriend Jan (Margo Woode), takes the inspector’s coat off the ship and everyone’s happy.

Russell just needs a money man to bankroll the operation and finds him in crime boss Harry Quantro (Frank Fenton). He pitches the idea to him, via “infomercial”. It is a strange way to open a movie, but stay with it. Quantro isn’t averse, he is willing to stake the heist under the condition that his girlfriend Paula (June Blair) - who he doesn’t keep around for her brilliant conversation - plays the nurse who will get the drugs off the ship. Quantro needs to keep the tabs on Jordan. The plan goes sideways when Paula genuinely falls in love with unwitting ambulance driver Eddie Mason (a very young Stuart Whitman).

The 40s had been a world of perpetual night where evil lurked in every shadow and around every corner. Maybe it was that by the mid-50s Noir had become aware of itself as an art form, and self-consciously so, that the decade gave way to naturalistic lighting and gritty realism. The cinematography by Carl Guthrie is very good, but it is lacking the characteristic Expressionist play of light and shadows. Often shot in a rather flat style, on the whole late 50s Noir is stripped of much of the visual poetry and elegant stylization that qualified earlier Noirs of the classic period. Now Noir hid in broad daylight. 

As camera equipment became lighter, filming was going away from backlots and closed sound stages too. On-location shooting became more and more the norm. Hell Bound showcases many evocative exterior scenes of bleak industrial sites. The film is worth watching alone for the last scene of a chase through the desolate Los Angeles trolley graveyard, one of the most creative shooting locations I have seen. 

Hell Bound indisputably has an exploitative angle in the gleeful depiction of brutal and unrestrained violence which isn’t in the least bit cartoonish. The administered beatings look like they really hurt, much more so than in any other films of that era. 

We also get a wonderful Grindhouse moment. One of the best scenes in the movie must be the one in the seedy strip joint where a burlesque artiste gives her best for the appreciative audience. This being 1957 we don’t see too much, she teases a lot more than she strips, but nevertheless it is unexpected to see in a mainstream film. It gets better. Her most ardent admirer is a blind (!) dope dealer named Daddy with a penchant for milk who’s doing his business right there at his front-row table! It’s marvelously weird.

Into the bargain, a decided shift in tone could be noticed compared to the 40s. The narrative was less about powerlessness in the face of pre-ordained fate, more about moral corruption of the individual and institutions, with emphasis on personal culpability.

40s Noir was asking existential questions that its protagonists had no answer to. Hell Bound doesn’t bother with that. There’s no loneliness, despair, existential torment, moral ambiguity and obsession. Hell Bound completely dispenses with the romanticism and sentimentality that was part of 40s Noir and goes straight for violence and cynicism. Though the picture is still recognizable as Noir in the classic style it has a barren, devoid of humanity feeling about it. Like chunks of ice drifting on a river.

Compared to other heist movies like Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and Kubrick’s The Killing, Hell Bound’s entire philosophy is different. The narrative is not manipulated so that the moviegoer sympathizes and identifies with the criminals. No desperate down-and-out characters who are only looking for a way out populate this picture. No existential dreamers whose longing for a better life spurs them on and who have the audiences’ sympathies all the way. Hell Bound is way too mean-spirited for that.

Playboy Playmate January 1957
It’s a heist-gone-wrong movie with a difference. Jordan’s robbery is ingeniously planned but when things go sideways it’s not one of Doc Riedenschneider blind accidents that louses up the perfect crime. Frankly it’s sheer stupidity. Thing is, if you want a heist to go off smoothly, don’t surround yourself with a bunch of flunkies from the shallow end of the gene pool who are a liability from the start and sell out for easy money on the drop of a hat.
Jordan's recruits include an deadbeat junkie in constant need of the next fix, an unbalanced health inspector on the verge of a nervous breakdown and a dame who goes soft. What could possibly go wrong with that setup? 

Very hunky John Russell is a favorite actor who unfortunately so often was relegated to playing second or third fiddle to other actors, before he became the upright lawman of the West. Amoral, vicious and sadistic, he could be straight out of a Tarantino movie and mixes an overdose of lethal charm with an equal dose of ice-cold menace. He has no redeeming qualities. He isn't driven by any kind of mad desire, especially not for a dame, a dream or a paradise lost. The robbery is a matter of simple economics. That uncut dope is worth about $2 million.

Paula tries her very very best to get cozy with him. She doesn’t get anywhere though it’s not for lack of trying. Disappointed she pouts: “You better see a doctor, Jordan. You’ve got a low blood count.” His chilling answer: “You're wrong, Paula. I’ve got no blood”. 
He controls everybody around him through sheer terror. He snuffs the snitch who gave him the plan of the ship’s cargo hold. He beats one of his cronies to a bloody pulp and he has a way with dames too. Paula gets a nasty beating before he knives her. Russell is riveting and simply makes this movie.

June Blair makes for a great Paula who looks every luscious inch just exactly what she was: Playboy Playmate of January 1957. She’s as pure as the driven and refreshingly never makes a floozy’s feint at virtue. Literally anybody who wears pants is fair game. The girl can’t help it.

She gets a great introduction. Laying in a chair she asks Jordan to help her put her shoes on, incidentally giving him a view up her skirt. As a phony nurse, she doesn’t really know the ins and outs of her supposed profession, but that shouldn't pose any difficulties for her. She knows she has her own qualifications for the job. “There isn’t any part of the anatomy I don’t know, even with my eyes closed”, the lady coos. We believe her. 

We get a little bit of shoe fetishism here. Kicking off her shoes means it’s action time for some lucky guy. And Paula seems to be willing to kick her shoes off with alarming frequency. There’s another dame in the movie who does the same with her glasses. 
Paula is Noir’s good-bad girl. Once she falls in love, things change. The only jarring note in an otherwise nifty little caper is that Paula survives the knife attack and gets her happy ending. A remnant of those dreaded Code-enforced endings maybe, but it's a minor flaw in an otherwise very entertaining film.

Apart from that, Hell Bound stays true to the spirit of Noir. In the end it all adds up to nothing. Jordan dies the way he lived, violently. As decommissioned trolleys are waiting for their disposal in the junk yard, so is Jordan. He’s climbed into one of the empty rail cars trying to evade capture, unfortunately a bunch of scrap metal is coming towards his way.

Noir’s appeal is eternal, it lives on in other genres and pictures and many filmmakers owe it a debt that cannot be repaid. Jean-Luc Godard acknowledged this debt and famously dedicated his 1960 movie À bout de souffle/Breathless to Monogram Pictures. As long as there are rotten dames, suckers, desperate men on the run, shyster lawyers, losers without a friend, but with a plan and dames that can’t help loving the wrong man, Noir doesn’t need an epitaph. It doesn’t even have a tombstone yet.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Rear Window (1954)

Sorry for having been AWOL for so long. I have officially dusted off my little battered Remington and am reporting back for duty.
Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema, Samantha at Musings of a Classic Film Addict and Emily of The Flapper Dame are hosting the 5th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon on November 10-12, 2019. This is my entry.

The Fine Art of Snooping or
Spies Like Us
"We've become a race of Peeping Toms." Stella
Hitchcock and phobias, books have been written about this subject. Authority figures, priests, domineering mothers, teachers, policemen, eggs (!)…in short the man was a bundle of nerves and neuroses. He once stated: “I’m fortunate to be a coward, to have a low threshold of fear, because a hero couldn’t make a good suspense film.”
A very interesting take on “How to Make a Thriller 101”, but his success obviously proved him right. He reveled in his fears and used them like other people use their special gifts. They gave him a profound understanding of the human psyche.

Michiko Kakutani wrote in her NYTimes review of Peter Ackroyd’s book Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life:
The world of menace [Hitchcock] conjured embodies our deepest, most existential fears. Fears …that the universe is irrational, that evil lives around the corner, that ordinary life can be ripped apart at any moment by some random unforeseen event.”
Murderous birds, crop dusters, mother-fixated weirdos with knives who don’t let you shower in peace… For Hitchcock the veneer of civilization was just a thin layer beneath which darkness and terror lay. In Noir danger and evil frequently pervert ordinary settings, and so they do in Hitchcock movies. 

Is Rear Window Noir? (I must ask this question, after all this is a Noir blog). As opposed to Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt and The Wrong Man, Rear Window’s Noir credential are tepid, though Hitchcock was always someone who let darkness infuse his films, even his lightest ones. He was never labeled a Noir director, yet Hitchcock and Noir shared certain sensibilities even if Hitch never really made his home in Dark City. He didn't let himself be confined by cinematic boundaries. At best we could say that Hitchcock used Noir themes as psychological and aesthetic framework. For him, fear, guilt, paranoia, obsession, moral corruption and desperation lurked everywhere. Hitchcock made these themes his own, and ultimately he is one of the very few directors who can lay claim to being their own genre. 

Most of his films work perfectly on the surface. Rear Window can be enjoyed as a simple thriller. Ostensibly the movie is one of his most accessible - like that glass of effervescent champagne called To Catch a Thief - but the audience could always rely on a maelstrom of unexpected intrusions to wash away any illusions of safety and normalcy. 

Hitchcock was immensely interested in everything subversive and made no bones about it. With Rear Window Hitchcock made a movie about your friendly Neighborhood Watch busybody as hero. What? Spying on people while they go about their private business is bad, bad, bad, right? If Hitchcock had been a tiresome moralist, the film would make it blatantly clear that Jeff is a creep who - with his unproven snooping - ruined the life of a good man. Thankfully Hitch spares us this pap. Hitchcock was a connoisseur of all things marvelously pervy. You name it, he envisioned it. He not only validates Jeff’s paranoia, Jeff is the wheelchaired crusader for justice. The ethics of snooping turned upside down. Kinky. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, Hitchcock could.

Good old Bosley called the movie “not significant” in his NYTimes review. Ooooh, that’s a low blow. How that guy managed to keep his job for 20 plus years is anybody’s guess. A success so richly undeserved.  

Naturally Joe Breen got his knickers in a twist about the smuttiness of it all and had his cleaning crew put in overtime. He pontificated that the entire picture had “the flavor of a peep show” (Memo – as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa). Perceptive lad! How did he figure that out? Somebody should have told him that the audience was perfectly capable of taking the 100 proof stuff and not choke on it, even if he couldn’t. But I digress.

Laid up with a broken leg in a hip cast in his small Greenwich Village apartment, professional photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffreys (James Stewart) is incapacitated and wheelchair-bound for the next seven weeks. Jeff’s introduction is wonderfully done. While he's asleep in his wheelchair, with one panning shot the camera tells us the story of Jeff’s life. His walls are hung with pictures of his adventurous exploits that take him all over the globe to war zones, disaster areas, exiting sporting events, forrest fires, explosions… Without a word being spoken the audience understands that here is a man who likes to live dangerously, a man who doesn't like to be tied down to an office job.
While photographing a race car crash he almost became roadkill himself and now he’s a prisoner in his own apartment. All by his lonesome, he’s frankly bored to tears and so gets his kicks looking out his rear window into the courtyard observing the neighbors. One night he sees his neighbor Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) acting extremely suspicious, you know like cleaning huge knives and saws, rubbing down the bathtub walls, going out in the middle of the night in the pouring rain each time carrying a heavy suitcase. His nagging invalid wife seems to be ominously absent from then on. Jeff starts to suspect nefarious goings-ons. He believes the salesman has bumped off his wife. Armed only with binoculars and a telephoto lens, Jeff sets to work. His evidence for murder is shaky at best, but Jeff - like Juror No.8 - is soon able to convince his visiting nurse/self-appointed amateur shrink Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his beautiful fiancée Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly).

Certain themes crop up again and again in Hitchcock's movies. The innocent man accused of a crime he didn’t commit, domineering mothers, chase scenes, the MacGuffin. None of them we get here. We do however get a few others. Ordinary people placed in the line of danger, the most beautiful of all Hitchcock blondes and the very conspicuous elephant in the room, voyeurism, something Hitchcock was more than just a little preoccupied with. Rear Window is the first entry in Hitch's voyeurism trilogy.

Roger Ebert stated in his Rear Window review: 
“The hero … is trapped in a wheelchair, and we're trapped, too--trapped inside his point of view, inside his lack of freedom and his limited options.” 
Voyeurism is the act of living your life vicariously…through others, without sharing their problems or pain. Distance and the avoidance of involvement and intimacy characterize the voyeur. 
Jeff’s addiction to peeping is born out of boredom. Don't forget kids, idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Spying on his neighbors quickly turns into an obsession that takes up his every waking minute. Stella warns Jeff: 
“In NY State the sentence for a Peeping Tom is six months in the workhouse. They got no windows in the work house. You know, in the old days, they used to put your eyes out with a red-hot poker. Any of those bikini bombshells you're always watching worth a red-hot poker?"
In Rear Window Hitchcock keeps the touch light throughout. Next time Hitchcock turned Stewart into a voyeur, his addiction would become a crippling neurosis.

Jeff studies his neighbors like insects under a magnifying glass. We see fleeting snippets of their lives while they go about their mundane activities. Everybody goes by aliases. In Woolrich’s (much-altered) source story It Had to Be Murder the protagonist says about his neighbors: “I didn’t know their names. I’d never heard their voices.” Hitchcock kept this premise. "The silent pictures were the purest form of cinema”, the director maintained. Here he goes back to his roots. Visuals count, not a word is being spoken.

Every window tells a story and Jeff is channel-surfing. There is close to expiry date spinster Miss Lonelyhearts who throws dinner parties for imaginary gentleman callers; she likes a bit of booze with her misery and so has been self-medicating with copious amounts of cheap hooch on a regular basis. There is a female sculptor who’s working on a piece called “Hunger” (attention shrinks, here's your chance to shine). There is Miss Torso (Hitch always had a twisted sense of humor) who frolics around in various stages of undress with her considerable assets ever-present and whose apartment resembles a bee-hive where she throws cocktail parties for susceptible suitors (if Jeff is a voyeur she’s his flip side, an exhibitionist). There’s a composer who fears his career is going nowhere and a couple of amorous newlyweds whose honeymoon is over before it has really begun. As always Hitch is quite honest about sex. Without showing us any more than a pulled-down blind, we know the newlyweds are constantly at it and Mrs. Newlywed is quite insatiable.

And of course there is Lars Thorwald with his invalid wife. She makes his life a living hell and would be much better off dead, at least in his estimation.

That Jeff does not lose our sympathy is entirely down to Stewart, that icon of American likability and integrity. His image was his get-out-of-jail-free card. It let him spy on sexy Miss Torso and not come off as a creep. Not that one can blame him. 

Stewart was a bit of stunt-casting. Before he left Hollywood for active service in 1941, his persona was sincere, boyish, trustworthy. Like a comfortable Saint Bernard. When he came back in 1946, the world had changed, he had changed. Jimmy had toughened up. It started with It’s a Wonderful Life and would be further explored in Anthony Mann’s Westerns. 
Hitchcock was good at exposing character traits in his actors that neither they nor the audience knew they had. Like he had done twice before with Cary Grant, Hitchcock chipped away at Jimmy's nice side. Hitch cast Stewart four times (Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, Rear Window) and each time he laid bare nuances that turned his image on his ears.
Jeff isn’t mild-mannered and gentle, he is morally compromised, moody, bad-tempered and occasionally downright insulting and we can literally feel his seething frustration of being cooped up.

The perspective of the voyeur is by nature a restricted one, for the perpetrator as well as for the audience. We see the world from Jeff's vantage point. We see what he sees, what conclusions he draws we draw. This is so obvious it risks accusations of banality but it bears repeating nevertheless because by now Rear Window has become the textbook example for subjective POV filming. 
Jeff spies and so do we and as such we become accessories to his voyeurism. We share his obsession and even identify with it. We know it’s immoral but spying is like the proverbial train wreck. You can’t look away. 

The film could be retitled Murder, He Hoped. So obsessed is Jeff that he doesn’t even want to hear of the possibility that Thorwald is innocent when his friend Detective Doyle (Wendell Corey) tells him that Mrs.T. is alive. Doyle committed the cardinal sin. He took away Jeff’s toy and stomped on it. Jeff can no longer indulge in his fantasy.

There is the underlying theme of “Love Thy Neighbor” running through the film. The phrase is uttered twice, once by Lisa and once by a woman after her little dog has been killed. She screams:
“You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘neighbors’! Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if somebody lives or dies! But none of you do!”
Urbanization has led to a fragmentation of society. People may live in close proximity now but they seem to be more lonely than ever. No man is an island, John Donne said, but the urban jungle seems to belie this assumption.
Hitchcock created the entire apartment building true to scale on the Paramount backlot. This is studio-filming at its best. On-location filming may lend an air of authenticity to the proceedings, but artifice can conjure up the perfect background for stories of entrapment, loneliness and isolation. Rear Window is set in a city that shows nothing of the real city and yet it captures the anonymity that characterizes the urban jungle.

The sad thing is that Jeff catches most of his neighbors on the raw, never at their best but often in their moments of failure. Ugly arguments, dirty linen washed in public, sadness, desperation, disappointed expectations… It’s not a pretty picture Hitchcock paints of humanity. The contemporary Time Out review maintained: “Hitchcock has nowhere else come so close to pure misanthropy…” I can't quite follow this reasoning.
Despite exposing their failings, Hitchcock manages to treat the neighbors with compassion and respect, there’s no doubt he’s sympathetic towards the lonely and damaged. He may show their flaws but he does not condemn and ridicule.

Life in Rear Window is condensed to the backyard and the apartment building. Confined spaces in films always create a microcosmos, containing actions and emotions to a single stage and a restricted environment, while at the same time emphasizing the claustrophobia of a the closed-in space which offers no escape from danger. 
Life outside this apartment complex doesn't seem to exist. We only catch the tiniest glimpse of city life through a narrow sliver of alleyway where we see the outside world go by. When characters exit the apartment building, they essentially exit the cinematic stage. Yet this insular microcosmos shows us a cross-section of society that is connected to its wider fabric.

I finally get to Grace Kelly, the one and only, the epitome of Hitch’s cool elegant blonde beauty with her dangerously combustible mix of elegance and sex. Hitchcock’s female ideal was ladylike, sophisticated and untouchable, yet at the same time sensuous and provocative. A snow-covered volcano with a hint of unbridled passion behind the cool facade. So impossibly beautiful is she that she seems unattainable in her desirability.
That Lisa is saved from being “a cold and lonely, lovely work of art” has to do with her humor, loyalty, adventurousness and the amazingly candid desire she reveals for Jeff. She doesn’t waste any time with coyness. She pursues him and proves herself to be one determined girl (I can’t bring myself to call Grace a dame). Lisa is no sleeping beauty who has to be kissed to be awakened. Her passions aren't waiting to be unleashed, they already are. This goddess is quite down to earth.

Her genuine love for Jeff makes her vulnerable. Several times we can feel her very real frustration and pain when Jeff yet again maintains that they are not compatible though she steadfastly - with something akin to masochistic desperation - tries to prove her love for him. She's been auditioning for months for the role of Jeff’s wife, she just goes about it the wrong way, with catered dinners and “previews of coming attractions”. He’s holding one of the most desirable women in the world, who is literally throwing herself at him, at arm’s length! It raises some serious question about his sanity. I’m sure Siggie Freud would have a thing or two to say about it. If Grace Kelly decided to slip into something more comfortable, I doubt any guy would care anymore if some other dude across the yard was cutting up his wife.

She’s "too perfect, too talented, too beautiful and too sophisticated", Jeff laments. Oh dear, the poor man has quite a bear to cross. She wouldn’t survive a day in the jungle. His rugged and nomadic lifestyle could never mesh with her wealthy Park Avenue princess life. He hammers the point home. And hammers, and hammers and hammers.
40s Hollywood could never resist the lure of dime-store Freudianism, and neither apparently can many critics and reviewers. I won’t bore your with the telephoto lens as phallic imagery and the plaster cast as indication of impotence (obviously only temporary). And don’t even get me started on the champagne cork. You can fill in those blanks yourself, kids. Siggie has a lot to answer for. Subtlety? We don’t need no stinkin’ subtlety. We head straight for ham-fisted symbolism. But I’m not playing.
Jeff’s desperately trying to make excuses not to marry Lisa because marriage would mean domestication, aka permanent cripplement. Maybe Jeff has the fate of George Bailey in mind, a man who was never able to realize his dreams. 

Hitch could never resist a little stab at marriage and here he’s almost hacking the institution to pieces. John Fawell writes in his book Hitchcock's Rear Window: The Well-Made Film: 
“Hitchcock’s films tend to be simultaneously warmly encouraging of traditional values and mischievously anarchistic about these values.”
He was someone who very much believed in traditional values but at the same time didn’t have too much faith in them. Jeff and his editor are meditating philosophically on the subject of wives.
Editor: “Jeff, wives don’t nag anymore, they discuss.”
Jeff: “Maybe in a higher rent district they discuss, in my neighborhood they still nag.”
The Epiphany
From the sad exploits of Miss Lonelyhearts to the more merry ones of Miss Torso, from non-compatible newlyweds to the worst case scenario, a murderous husband, this is really a story about male-female relationships in the package of a thriller.
Each neighbor is not just a supporting character, but a representation of a possible future for Jeff. No wonder he's commitment-shy. He recognizes patterns when he sees them and doesn’t want to follow the same well-worn paths to doom. 

So, what’s a girl to do? Take part in Jeff’s fantasy. The turning point comes when Lisa starts to believe. She enters Thorwald’s apartment to find evidence of murder and in the process almost ends up in the clammy clutches of Thorwald herself. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Jeff finds that incredibly thrilling. Throughout the movie he has felt closer to the people he spies on than to his flesh and blood friends/lover. He finally has Lisa in front of his lens, he sees her in his private home movie! If I were psychoanalytically inclined… no, I’ll be damned if I go there. But having the shrink of his trust on speed dial might be just as well.
My favorite scene in the movie must be Grace going up the ladder to Thorwald’s apartment in evening dress and high heels, with nary a hair out of place. Getting her white pristine gloves even a little bit dirty is not an option! That’s my girl.

She’s a risk-taker, proactive and resourceful. She has been confronted with the worst-case scenario and comes through with flying colors. All of a sudden he sees a whole new woman. The look on his face when the new reality sinks in is priceless. Marrying Lisa doesn’t have to mean settling down to an office job photographing society mavens. He can still go to out-of-the-way places and have adventures, with her in tow. 

We have to talk about Mr. Slice ’n Dice and his little shop of horrors. This was Raymond Burr still in his villain phase, and a great villain he made in the 40s and 50s before he became Perry Mason and kept his nose clean.

Hitchcock understood that the unsaid and unseen can be more potent than shocking violence. In not showing the murder Hitchcock is uncharacteristically restrained. In contrast to the in-your-face killings in Psycho where Hitchcock, ever the purveyor of good taste, washed any inhibitions down the drain, this murder happens out of sight, behind lowered blinds. Everything is left to the viewer’s imagination. It has to be to keep the viewer guessing. After all it might all be a figment of Jeff’s imagination.

Thorwald remains an enigma throughout. We never find out much about him. He seems to be just a sad little man trapped in an intolerable marriage and is simply puzzled that anyone would care about him and what he has done. “What do you want from me?” he asks Jeff once he confronts him. As he’s looking straight into the camera he’s posing the same question to the audience. He doesn’t get an answer.

Another standout is Thelma Ritter. Stella doles out homespun bromides along with Jeff’s daily medicine that might sound trite at first - “When a man and a woman see each other and like each other, they oughta come together, wham, like a couple of taxis on Broadway” - but hit the mark every time. Ritter almost steals the show if it weren’t for Grace Kelly. It’s not possible to steal the spotlight away from Grace.

The ending is maybe a tad soapy. The composer finished his song and it is that same song that stops Miss Lonelyhearts from suicide. Miss Torso welcomes her tubby little soldier boyfriend home. However, on downbeat note the sex-happy honeymooners are starting the whole cycle again, the wife having turned into a nag.

In the end we’re back at square one, with a twist. After being pushed out of his window, Jeff ends up like in the beginning, in a wheelchair, now with two legs in a cast. We hope this is not a déjà vu all over again. At least this time his chair is facing inwards.

Lisa, dressed in rugged outdoor clothes - as interpreted by Harper’s Bazaar’s fashion department -  and looking like the cat that ate the canary, is reclining on the sofa, reading rugged outdoor literature. When she sees that Jeff is sleeping she reaches for her holy book, Harper’s. Many reviewers have suggested that this means their battle is not resolved and will continue. I’ll put a much more positive spin on it. She’s capable of juggling both worlds. Jeff just has to ditch the window-shopping.