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The Essential Movie Library #72: Rear Window (1954)

An immobile photographer spies on his neighbors and discovers that sometimes watching will get you in a lot of trouble in this Hitchcock classic

Lots of people will tell you that this movie is about the movies, about watching, about the voyeur in all of us who are as captivated by film as the main character, a professional photographer who’s been sidelined by a broken leg and can only sit by his window peering into other people’s windows and lives and spying on them. And as a movie about the movies, this is the most exquisitely perfect statement by Alfred Hitchcock, the most exquisitely precise (if several degrees cooler) moviemaker this side of Ernst Lubitsch, masterly orchestrating every moment of this thriller’s 100-plus minutes played out on a single set of 30 rooms and a courtyard.  

But this movie is about something else too, and that something else is how and why, with all due respect to Marlon Brando, James Stewart is the greatest American film actor. However fondly and indelibly remembered he is by audiences for being drawling, stammering “Jimmy,” no actor did as well as Stewart anguish and despair, those emotions that go profoundly beyond fear into a distress that’s metastasized by dread and guilt into something practically metaphysical. Down to the last nuance, as well as in pictures as disparate as It’s a Wonderful Life, The Man From Laramie, and Vertigo (Essential Movie Library #2), Stewart puts those emotions on display and it’s difficult to imagine another actor, onscreen here virtually the whole time, so commanding the action while almost never rising from his chair. Communicating everything from the waist up and the eyes down, our supposedly trustworthy Jimmy is the dark bearer of the bad news that sometimes watching will—with some help from delectable girlfriend Grace Kelly—get you in a lot of trouble.  

Read them all:

The Essential Movie Library #71: The 400 Blows
The Essential Movie Library #70: Blue Velvet
The Essential Movie Library #69: Dr. Strangelove
The Essential Movie Library #68: The Bicycle Thieves
The Essential Movie Library #67: Pulp Fiction
The Essential Movie Library #66: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
The Essential Movie Library #65: Caché
The Essential Movie Library #64: A Hard Day's Night
The Essential Movie Library #63: The Searchers
The Essential Movie Library #62: The Conformist
The Essential Movie Library #61: Bonnie & Clyde
The Essential Movie Library #60: Sweet Smell of Success
The Essential Movie Library #59: Melancholia
The Essential Movie Library #58: La Dolce Vita
The Essential Movie Library #57: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
The Essential Movie Library #56: Contempt
The Essential Movie Library #55: Sunset Boulevard
The Essential Movie Library #54: Metropolis
The Essential Movie Library #53: In A Lonely Place
The Essential Movie Library #52: Talk to Her
The Essential Movie LIbrary #51: To Be or Not To Be
The Essential Movie Library #50: The Battle of Algiers
The Essential Movie Library #49: Notorious
The Essential Movie Library #48: Wings of Desire
The Essential Movie Library #47: L'Avventura
The Essential Movie Library #46: Malcolm X
The Essential Movie Library #45: In the Mood for Love
The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin' in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L'Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2
The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy