2. Rear Window (1954)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by John Michael Hayes. Cinematography by Robert Burks.
Starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr.
Yes, I know, it's about watching, it's an indictment of us moviegoers as voyeurs, blah blah blah. But 'Rear Window' is also about helplessness, weakness. Stewart plays Jeff, a news photographer who is wheelchair-bound after being caught in a race car crash while photographing it. (How cool is that?) There's a scene in which he's being given a therapeutic massage* by his nurse, Stella, and he takes his pajama top off and he looks wretched--like someone who has spent weeks in a wheelchair. I've seen this film at least a half-dozen times and the sight of a shriveled Jimmy Stewart shocks me every time.
That scene establishes that Jeff's accident has left him physically diminished, but it turns out he may have suffered some emotional fractures as well. Later in the film Lisa--Jeff's girlfriend, keep in mind--is across the courtyard being manhandled by murder suspect Thorwald. Jeff and Stella are watching this when Lisa begins screaming to Jeff for help, and Jeff tells Stella to back into the shadows so they can hide from Thorwald. Our hero, everyone! For me, this moment is Stewart at his most unappealing, and I've seen both 'Vertigo' and 'It's a Wonderful Life.'**
Christ, I love Grace Kelly. Not going anywhere with that, I just love her as an actress. My favorite Grace Kelly moment in 'Rear Window' comes when Lisa and Jeff are explaining to Jeff's cop friend about the murder they think has happened across the courtyard. Lisa says "we think Thorwald's guilty" with the same tone you might expect her to say "we're voting Republican" or "we're Lutheran."
To even things out, my favorite Jimmy Stewart moment was when Jeff's trying to convince Lisa about the murder. The camera lingers on a neighbor across the courtyard, the voluptuous Miss Torso, and Jeff says "that'd be a terrible job to tackle." Lisa looks at him and he continues "just how would you start to cut up a human body?"
Couple points: This is as good a place as any to mention that Hitchcock is my all-time favorite director. Also, Jimmy Stewart is the second actor to be in two of my top ten films. This might be the only place where Elija Wood and Jimmy Stewart are ever in the same sentence. Treasure it, Frodo.
*Get your minds out of the gutter.
**Don't believe me? Watch it again; George Bailey is kind of a jerk.