Sunday, August 29, 2010

Don't Make a Scene: Rear Window

The Story: Perfection.  Broken, wheel-chair-bound photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries has a problem with it.  Too bad he's in such a nearly perfect screenplay (by John Michael Hayes, with the visual supervision of Alfred Hitchcock).  When we first encounter him, Hitchcock, in one of his greatest instances of visual story-telling, informs us of Jeffries career, and how he probably ended up with his leg in a cast, panning over an example of his studio work (in negative), his broken camera equipment and a hair-raising shot of an accident at a race-track.

Jeffries prefers to photograph life in chaos, so it is no wonder that in his narrow view (through a view-finder), he questions perfection.  now, in an insular world, with his injury providing the blinders, he can ruminate on his world-view, and his romantic "problems"—his relationship with Lisa Carol Fremont (played by a stunningly gorgeous Grace Kelly).  It doesn't help that through the limited scope of his "Rear Window," he can see a virtual museum filled with dioramas of relationships going sour.  Window-boxes of love, like flowers in varying stages of decay.  For a man who thrives on excitement (though he merely observes it through a lens), it is disheartening, dis-spiriting, and throws him into a dour curmudgeonly funk that darkens his room and colors his perceptions.

That window also provides the means of escape for a trapped man—trapped in his frailties and also his world-view.  Through it, he will find—or perceive—a mystery, one that will threaten the woman he doesn't want to commit to, but realizes he can't live without.  And, discovering that, he will throw himself, again, into harm's way to resolve the situation in his limited, vulnerable way.  He will risk everything to protect the woman that, before, he so blithely has taken for granted.  He will come full-circle, the events of the film showing him the reality of the relationship, rather than seeing it, prismatically, through his own preferred filters.

A perfect screenplay.

The Set-Up: "Jeff" Jeffries (James Stewart) is a broken man. Laid up with a work-related injury, it is time for his visit from the insurance company nurse, Stella (the wonderful Thelma Ritter) for a little re-adjustment, and maybe some slapping around. At the end of this scene, he will begin the journey to the cure for what ails him.


Sections not appearing in the final film appear in RED.



The CAMERA is very low at one end of the divan. Jeff's head,
half-buried in the sheet, is large in the fore-ground.

Beyond him Stella looms large and powerful-looking.

JEFF I think you're right. There is going to be some trouble around here.

Stella takes a handful of oil, slaps it on his back. He winces.

STELLA I knew it!

JEFF Don't you ever heat that stuff up.
STELLA Gives your circulation something to fight.
(Begins massaging his back)
What kind of trouble?
JEFF Lisa Fremont.

STELLA You must be kidding. A beautiful young woman, and you a reasonably healthy specimen of manhood.
JEFF She expects me to marry her.
STELLA That's normal.
JEFF I don't want to.
STELLA (Slaps cold oils on him) That's abnormal.

JEFF (Wincing) I'm not ready for marriage.

STELLA Nonsense. A man is always ready for marriage -- with the right girl. And Lisa Fremont is the right girl for any man with half a brain, who can get one eye open.

JEFF (Indifferent) She's all right.

She hits him with some more cold oil. He winces again.

STELLA Behind every ridiculous statement is always hidden the true cause.
(Peers at him)
What is it? You have a fight?
STELLA (After a pause) Her father loading up the shotgun?

JEFF Stella!

STELLA It's happened before, you know! Some of the world's happiest marriage have started 'under the gun' you might say.

JEFF She's just not the girl for me.
STELLA She's only perfect.
JEFF Too perfect. Too beautiful, too talented, too sophisticated, too everything -- but what I want.

STELLA (Cautiously) Is what you want something you can discuss?
Jeff gives an exasperated look.

JEFF It's very simple. She belongs in that rarefied atmosphere of Park Avenue, expensive restaurants, and literary cocktail parties.
STELLA People with sense can belong wherever they're put.
JEFF Can you see her tramping around the world with a camera bum who never has more than a week's salary in the bank?

JEFF (Almost to himself) If only she was ordinary.
Stella sprinkles powder on his back, spreads it around.

THE CAMERA PULLS BACK as she helps Jeff to a sitting position. He buttons on his shirt.

STELLA You're never going to marry?

JEFF Probably. But when I do, it'll be to someone who thinks of life as more than a new dress, a lobster dinner, and the latest scandal.

JEFF I need a woman who'll go anywhere, do anything, and love it.
THE CAMERA MOVES IN as she helps him into the wheelchair, listening to him with exaggerated attention. He, stops as he notice her attitude. Then he goes on with less conviction:

JEFF The only honest thing to do is call it off. Let her look for somebody else.

STELLA I can just hear you now. "Get out of here you perfect, wonderful woman! You're too good for me!"

JEFF (After pause) That's the hard part.

She swings him around in front of the window. He starts to look out.

STELLA Look, Mr. Jefferies. I'm not educated. I'm not even sophisticated. But I can tell you this -- when a man and a woman see each other, and like each other...

STELLA -- they should come together -- wham -- like two taxies on Broadway.

STELLA Not sit around studying each other like...

STELLA ...specimens in at bottle.
JEFF There's an intelligent way to approach marriage.

STELLA (Scoffing) Intelligence! Nothing has caused the human race more trouble. Modern marriage!
Jeff swings his chair back to look at her.

JEFF We've progressed emotionally in --
STELLA (Interrupting) Baloney!

STELLA Once it was see somebody, get excited, get married -- Now, it's read books,

STELLA ...fence with four syllable words, psychoanalyze each other...

STELLA ...until you can't tell a petting party from a civil service exam.

JEFF People have different emotional levels that --
STELLA (Interrupting again)Ask for trouble and you get it. Why there's a good boy in my neighborhood who went with a nice girl across the street for three years. Then he refused to marry her. Why? -- Because she only scored sixty-one on a Look Magazine marriage quiz!

Jeff can't help smiling.

STELLA When I married Myles, we were both maladjusted misfits.

STELLA We still are. And we've loved every minute of it.

JEFF That's fine, Stella. Now would you make me a sandwich?

She relaxes.

STELLA Okay -- but I'm going to spread some common sense on the bread. Lisa Fremont's loaded to her fingertips with love for you. I'll give you two words of advice. Marry her.

JEFF (Smiles) She pay you much?
Stella leaves for the kitchen in a huff. Jeff turns his chair to the window.

"Rear Window"

Words by John Michael Hayes

Pictures by Robert Burks and Alfred Hitchcock

"Rear Window" is available on DVD from Universal Home Video.

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