Rear Window is one of those ideas that's been ripped off time and again - a contemporary version, Disturbia, came out in 2007 and starred Shia LaBeouf in James Stewart's role. The 1954 Hitchcock film was actually an adaptation of a 1942 short story by Cornell Woolrich, called "It had to be Murder", and necessitated the construction of the giant apartment building set. The only apartment that we actually enter is that of L. B. Jeffries (James Stewart), an award-winning photographer who's laid up with a broken leg. He has nothing else to do all day so he's taken to giving his neighbours nicknames and stories based on what he sees them do. There's Miss Lonely Hearts on the ground floor who's looking for love, and Miss Torso the dancer who practices her moves in her kitchen.
Things take a darker turn when he begins to suspect the neighbour directly opposite, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), has murdered his wife and he enlists the help of his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and his physiotherapist Stella (Thelma Ritter) to investigate further. Thorwald tells the police that his wife has gone to stay with relatives, but Jeff isn't convinced, and tension rises when Lisa actually enters Thorwald's apartment to look for clues.
One of the ways in which Rear Window works so well is because we, like Jeff, never leave the space of his apartment. We can only look out of the window. Other characters, such as Lisa and Stella, may come and go, but we may not, locking us into Jeff's point of view within the cinematic space. As a result, we are just as helpless as Jeff to intervene in events outside the window. There has been some work into the film in terms of its relationship to 'the gaze', which in this case is very much granted to Jeff, and even when Lisa is exploring Thorwald's apartment, she is doing so on behalf of Jeff, and is still not given a gaze of her own. The film is even likened to the experience of cinema itself, as we sit in darkened rooms and watch events unfold on screen, events in which we have no participation. Indeed, Jeff's interest in Lisa only begins to grow once she has crossed to the other side of the apartment complex and become part of this 'screen'.
As I said earlier, I know what happens in the film, and yet every time I watch it, I end up getting caught up in the suspense. I suppose that's how Hitchcock got his most famous nickname. It's also a masterclass in storytelling - the 'ordinary world' is established, with New York in the grip of a heatwave and Jeff stuck indoors, and this world is altered with the suspicion that a murder has taken place. Tension is ratcheted up throughout act two, in which Jeff and Lisa make their inquiries, until the climax when truths must be uncovered and danger faced. I absolutely love it.
Anyway, I'll leave you with this clip, where Jeff decides to take a closer look at the salesman across the courtyard...