Rear Window

Talkie of the Week: Rear Window

USA 1954, 112 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Alfred Hitchcock, Written by John Michael Hayes, Based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story “It Had to Be Murder”. Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey and Raymond Burr.

Plot summary: Stuck in his apartment in a wheel chair, photographer L.B. Jeffries enjoys sitting by his his rear window to entertain himself with the everyday lives of his neighbors until he starts suspecting one of them of murder.

Review: New York, 1954. Photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) is trapped at home, tied to a wheel chair and deprived of his usual excitation. An independent spirit whose professional life is filled with danger and adventure, he is bored out of his wits sitting in his tiny apartment with a broken leg. Secluded from the outside world apart from his daily visitors Lisa (Grace Kelly) and nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), he has found solace in the repetitive lives of his colorful neighbors. Nicknaming them according to their behavior, Jeff comments on the patterns he has made out in five weeks of impudently observing them. Although chided by his visitors at first for peeking into the private affairs of complete strangers, his guilty pleasure soon becomes an addiction for him as much as to his acquaintances, leading to revelations about well-kept secrets and a possible murder.

Detached in the beginning and cynical, Jimmy Stewart’s performance is reliable as always, his character strangely intangible despite his rough, likable charm. By his side, Grace Kelly shines in her lovely dresses, her beauty set up to stun rather than her performance. Thelma Ritter delivers her lines with a genuine twinkle in her eye, bringing a lightness to an atmosphere of restraint and suspense while Wendell Corey adds to a feeling of increasing trepidation. Blessed with a stellar cast of supporting actors who work together like a beautiful composition of New York neighbors, it is Raymond Burr who stands out with his performance as murder suspect Lars Thorwald. From the distance, he seems unspectacular and vulnerable, a character broken by life. When we finally see his face and hear him speak, it is his voice that is the biggest surprise – for a moment, he leaves us wondering about the person behind a man we suspect of having committed a cruel crime. He sounds helpless somehow and weak, his questions coming across like a plea before his calm turns into violence and he becomes intimidating again to say the least.

Using the suspense and excitement of voyeurism, Rear Window was further refined by a memorable set and popular music, guaranteeing the film a place in the National Film Registry in 1997. Shot in color and based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich from 1942, the film is still on the must-see list of any film buff who enjoys Hollywood’s Golden Age and has the potential to make a frequent guest appearance in your home. As one of Hitchcock’s most celebrated masterpieces, Rear Window was gripping upon release and remains suspenseful today, on DVD, in reruns or on Blu-ray.

Rear Window re-release trailer

Sorry, Wrong Number

Talkie of the Week: Sorry, Wrong Number

USA 1948, 89 minutes, black & white, Paramount Pictures. Director: Anatole Litvak, Written by Lucille Fletcher, Based on the radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number” by Lucille Fletcher, Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey, Harold Vermilyea, Ed Begley, Leif Erickson, William Conrad, John Bromfield, Jimmy Hunt, Dorothy Neumann, Paul Fierro

Plot summary: Leona Stevenson overhears two men plotting a murder of a woman who turns out to be herself.

Review: Today, the lovely Barbara Stanwyck would have celebrated her 105th birthday. In dear memory of an unforgettable leading lady, I have thus decided to present Sorry, Wrong Number, a film noir for which she received her fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1949.

Originally a radio play that featured Agnes Moorehead in a solo performance in 1943, Sorry, Wrong Number was turned into a screenplay by Lucille Fletcher, the playwright herself, and conquered the silver screen in the fall of 1948. Starring Barbara Stanwyck as invalid Leona Stevenson who overhears two men plotting a murder on the phone, the story is dark and suspenseful in writing, as well as in effect. Told in real time with the use of explanatory flashbacks, Leona’s desperate attempt to inform the authorities are as futile as her effort to reach her husband. The phone, as her only medium of communication with the outside world, turns into a beacon of hope and sorrow when she finally realizes
that the victim is going to be herself. Haunting in her desperation, Barbara Stanwyck’s performance is never quiet but rather striking in its fierceness and color. Supported by an excellent co-star, Burt Lancaster, as Henry Stevenson and an overall convincing cast, Ms. Stanwyck’s fear and constriction reaches an almost tangible level with every phone call she places, every secret she learns. Her face reflects the horrid situation she finds herself trapped in, the mere panic she begins to absorb. It is the music by Franz Waxman and the expert use of shadows and light which does the rest, affecting the audience with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Reclaiming her role as Leona on CBS’ Lux Radio Theater in 1950, Barbara Stanwyck showed her full range of emotions in a part that was the last to get her the attention from the Motion Picture Academy until she finally received an Honorary Oscar in 1981. As one of her many films that left a mark until today, Sorry, Last Number is a classic that never gets old but has the potential to attract an entire new generation of fans. With its enthralling style and Ms. Stanwyck’s powerhouse performance, the film is perfect to bring sunshine to an autumn-like July and a beautiful way to honor her today.

Available on DVD, CD and as radio podcast.

Buckskin

Talkie of the Week: Buckskin

USA 1968, 97 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Michael D. Moore, Producer: A. C. Lyles, Written by: Jimmie Haskell. Cast: Barry Sullivan, Joan Caulfield, Wendell Corey, Lon Chaney Jr., John Russell, Barbara Hale, Bill Williams, Barton MacLane, Richard Arlen, Leo Gordon, Jean-Michel Michenaud, George Chandler, Aki Aleong, Michael Larrain, Craig Littler, James X. Mitchell, Emile Meyer, Robert Riordan, Leroy Johnson, Manuela Thiess

Plot summary: Marshall Chaddock tries to bring order to a remote Western town which has been controlled by local crook Rep Marlowe. He seeks the support of the homesteaders who are ready to sell out and take flight until Chaddock proves to be willing to risk his life to fight for justice.

Review: Buckskin is a film made in true Western tradition featuring a full cast of well-known Western names and faces. Barry Sullivan leads the excellent group of actors as Montana Territorial Marshall Chaddock who comes to Glory Hole as an outsider with his halfbreed son Akii (Jean-Michel Michenaud). Their introduction to local homesteaders (wedded acting team Barbara Hale and Bill Williams, as well as their on-screen son Michael Larrain) is awkward and almost painful to watch, but not because the performances would lack depth or appeal. It’s the characters’ hardship that’s rather apparent from the get-go. The homesteaders have long given up on expecting help from anybody, let alone outsiders coming in with a promise to turn things for the better. It takes some drastic measures to convince them to support a man who finally lives up to what he says…

Buckskin is a typical tale of the lone Western hero, beautifully told with a touch of the late 1960s and thus a slight political undertone. Barry Sullivan gives a convincing performance of his character’s stubborn effort to win allies in an area that once belonged to his son’s forefathers and is now controlled by a greedy crook. When he ultimately succeeds, the fight for justice does not come without sacrifice for those who have struggled with unfortunate circumstances all their lives. Supporting cast members Barbara Hale and Bill Williams give strong performances as homesteaders Sarah and Frank Cody whose lives are affected by both, Chaddock and Marlowe, in unfortunate and unpleasant ways. Joan Caulfield gives an equally convincing portrayal of school teacher gone barmaid Nora Johnson. Her fate contrasts Sarah Cody’s, but strangely resembles it in a way. Both of their lives have been severely influenced by the men surrounding them, which adds a mild sense of women’s rights to the story.

All in all, Buckskin is a worthy pick for everybody who enjoys to watch a mature cast of fabulous actors in a Western scenery with a moral in the end to pass on to your kids. A great flick for a rainy Sunday afternoon, tissues included if you are as hooked on powerful yet subtle emotional scenes as I am.

Available on VHS.