I discovered this movie during the time in my life when my husband and I often spend a night watching the film (or two) at the old Key Theatre in DC. It was one of many classics I enjoyed while going through a period of Hitchcock binging (before that term became fashionable), and it blew me away.
The premise of a man named L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) confined by injury to a wheelchair playing Peeping Tom to pass the time and drawing all sorts of conclusions from what he sees was intriguing from the start.
There’s so much to love about this film, it’s hard to reduce it to a few paragraphs. But let’s start with the suspenseful way the hint that a murder may have been committed in one of those apartments is planted. Not to mention the slow, agonizingly slow buildup as that hint grows into likelihood.
And did Hitchcock not cast the perfect suspect in Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald? Perry Mason never looked so shifty-eyed or mean.
Then there’s the humor. While Jeffries is convinced that the cops need to bust down Thorwald’s door and take him in, he ends up fencing words with his friend Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), a New York City police detective. Not only does Doyle throw cold water all over Jeffries’ theories, but his tart-tongued home nurse (played with sardonic aplomb by Thelma Ritter) gets her own jabs in. She tells him in no uncertain terms, “Mind your own beeswax. And marry that great girl, Lisa.” More on her in a moment.
The humor of the film extends to the little nicknames Jeffries bestows upon his neighbors. Like the very attractive blonde “Miss Torso” and the single, middle-aged “Miss Lonelyhearts”.
In the case of the latter, the humor contrasts sharply with a scenario that creates more tension in the already suspenseful film. And then there’s Lisa – Jeffries’ girlfriend, played to (icy blonde) perfection by Grace Kelly.
Notable not only for her multitude of amazing outfits, Lisa warms up considerably (as icy blondes go) when she leans in for her close up!
Add to that all the painstaking effort Hitchcock took in having the set constructed just so, and it’s clear that the Master of Suspense outdid himself with this one.
Among the very best of Hitchcock’s movies, this film gets a definite two thumbs up!