Rear Window

James Stewart and Grace Kelly in Rear Window

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

8 January

 

 

François Grimaldi takes Monaco, 1297

On this day in 1297, dressed as a monk, François Grimaldi (more properly Francesco, since he was Italian) was admitted to the castle at Monaco. Known as Il Malizia, “the cunning”, Grimaldi’s plan was simple – get inside, open the gates and then let his men rush the guards. This he did, and once his men, including his cousin, Rainier, were in he took control. For four years he ruled over Monaco, until he was chased out by the Genoese. He was the first of the Grimaldi clan to try and establish a claim over the territory. On his death, his cousin (and stepson) Rainer became his successor and established the Chateau Grimaldi at nearby Cagnes. The present-day Grimaldis trace their lineage back to Rainier I, though he never held the fortress known as “the Rock”. That honour went to his son, Charles I, who regained control of it in 1331.

 

 

 

Rear Window (1954, dir: Alfred Hitchcock)

The second of three films that Grace Kelly (later Princess of Monaco) would make with Alfred Hitchcock, and the second that would appear in 1954, Rear Window is the go-to film when any discussion of Hitchcock’s voyeurism is on the cards, which it often is. The story of a photographer laid up with a broken leg, who whiles away his time by staring at the apartments opposite through a telephoto lens, it is also becomes a classic tale of Hitchcockian impotence when James Stewart’s Jeff witnesses what he believes was a murder. Whether it was or not forms the crux of the movie, but there’s another focus too – the teasing relationship between Jeff and Lisa (Kelly). She is sweet on him but his behaviour towards her is rather offhand; he’s keeping her at arm’s length, the cool, passive character compared to her hot, active one. While Jeff stares out the rear window over at the apartment of Thorvald (Raymond Burr) who may or may not have killed his wife, the camera stares at Kelly, in a series of swish outfits, pouting, coquettish, and the question forms in our heads – what is wrong with this guy? Why is he so obsessed with what he can see through binoculars, but not with what he could touch right in front of him? And later, combining theme A with theme B about as neatly as it can possibly be done, Hitchcock sends Kelly over to the facing block and inserts her into Jeff’s scopophilic fantasy. Now he’s interested, oh yes. Like a lot of the best movies, Rear Window has a simple, brilliant premise. In terms of cast and sets it’s simplicity itself. And as a metaphor for the theory that cinema is essentially a voyeuristic experience it’s near perfect too.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Better than Rope or Lifeboat, this is Hitchcock’s best “one set” film
  • The restoration is a marvel, having brought a near-perished film back to life
  • Voyeurism in all its thrilling seediness
  • Better than the not-bad Christopher Reeve remake, or the Shia LaBeouf knock-off, Disturbia

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Rear Window – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

The Shop Around the Corner

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in a publicity shot for The Shop Around the Corner

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

24 September

 

 

CompuServe launches first consumer internet service, 1979

On this day in 1979, after ten years of supplying dial-up computer timesharing to businesses, CompuServe (originally Compu-Serve) started to offer something similar to the great unwashed. The service was called MicroNET and was sold through Radio Shack stores in the USA. It proved more popular than CompuServe had anticipated and by the following year had been renamed CompuServe Information Service. By then consumers could access news stories, stock quotes and weather reports and they could book airline tickets using only their computer. They could also chat in forums and communicate via a system which CompuServe called Email. Old hands will remember when CompuServe email addresses looked like this – 12345.678@compuserve.com – eight inch floppy disks, green monitors, data transfer rates of 300 baud (ie symbols per second). By 1981 CompuServe were riding high with 10,000 subscribers. These subscribers paid for the service by the minute and were served, for the most part, text-based information. By the early 1990s CompuServe were the biggest online provider in the USA. And then came AOL with its free CDs dropping onto doormats, offering a more graphic-based service and, most importantly, all-inclusive packages complete with generous time allowances. Though they didn’t yet know it, CompuServe had been served.

 

 

The Shop Around the Corner (1940, dir: Ernst Lubitsch)

The obvious email-related film is You’ve Got Mail (or M@il as it cutely insisted). But why not go back to source. Or at least the best movie manifestation of the play on which the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcom is based? That’s Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner, starring Hanks’s spiritual predecessor, James Stewart, and Margaret Sullavan as the two employees of a Budapest department store who can barely stand each other in real life but are falling in love by letter. The will they/won’t theys are further complicated by the fact that the two are not masters of their own destiny but employees. And the Budapest setting? A reminder that it was a Hungarian, Miklos Laszlo, who wrote the original play, and that the US was engaged in a war in Europe for the preservation of Western civilisation (does anyone still use the term “Western civilisation”?). The film is one of the finest examples of the famous “Lubitsch touch”, the melding of sweet and sour, sophisticated and brutal, the heroic and the comic – pretty much the way that successful romcoms are still made today. That doesn’t mean it’s not cute, schmaltzy and contrived. But with Lubitsch there’s always an awareness of the cuteness, schmaltz and contrivance. We’re in on the joke.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • One of four collaborations of Stewart and Sullavan
  • “Among the greatest of films,” according to the highly respected David Thomson
  • A great example of a film with “the Lubitsch touch”
  • The brilliant café scene, lifted almost intact for You’ve Got Mail

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

The Shop Around the Corner – at Amazon