AFI Top 100: Rear Window

In 2007, the American Film Institute revised their previous 1998 list of the 100 best American films of all time. This weekly column will explore my thoughts on select films from this list, mostly following along with the Unspooled Podcast, which inspired my journey to complete the AFI Top 100. You can also follow my progress with my ranking and watchlist. This week’s film is Rear Window (1954), #48 on the list.

I finally unlocked the key to Rear Window on this 3rd watch. I always found it enjoyable enough but disappointing, mostly because I always go in expecting a taut and complicated thriller akin to other Hitchcock films—especially his masterpiece Dial M for Murder, which was released the very same year—but that’s absolutely not what it aims to be. In fact, we don’t even sense any suspicious behavior outside James Stewart’s window until over 30 minutes in. In the interim, Hitchcock sets the stage, introducing us to his life and the lives of his neighbors—well, his view of it. And that’s the real brilliance of Rear Window: it’s not centered around the murder mystery thread that Stewart slowly unravels, instead, it’s about a man who projects his own skewed view onto the world around him. 

He gives his neighbors crude names like “Miss Torso” and “Miss Lonelyhearts” based solely on the attributes and parts of their personality that he can see from his distant window. The same even applies to his personal life, where he remarks about how he’s reluctant to settle down with his girlfriend because she’s “too perfect,” later telling her that she wouldn’t be able to keep up with his lifestyle, despite her confidently reassuring him otherwise. His journey across the film isn’t about him becoming a sleuthy detective, piecing together a crime, it’s about him realizing that his narrow view of the world isn’t accurate, and that the people around him have more complex lives than he can imagine. The film is enjoyable on so many levels: it’s a thought-provoking drama, a tense thriller, and even a metatextual examination of the way we watch movies. It’s one of Hitchcock’s best.

Does It Belong on the List?

Hitchcock has four films on the list, and I still have to revisit Vertigo, so I’ll save my picks of which Hitchcock films belong on the list at that point, but Rear Window is definitely one of them.

AFI Top 100

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