Sunday, September 16, 2012

Don't Make a Scene: Rear Window

The Story: The month of September being a traditional month of doldrums at the movies (although The Master did open up and we'll have a review this week), we here at LNTAM decided to brush some cob-webs off of "Don't Make a Scene" contenders that just made it to the light of your monitor, for whatever reason.  Either I just didn't get around to it (likely), took interest in another scene first (more likely) or just didn't have anything to say about it (most likely) other than "I loved this when I saw it," they didn't make "the cut."

This one (from Rear Window) I really don't have a comment other than I find it hilarious, not only for Thelma Ritter's performance in it—she was a great character actress (even if it only seemed like one character—"the wiseacre") who made the most comic potential out of her work without overdoing it—but for the fact that the dialog is terrific in the "don't bother me with facts" logic of it—everything ties together neatly in Rear Window's screenplay, and this speech is no exception with it's "I know what I seen" sense of certitude that the character of L.B. Jeffries will adopt later in the film (after expressing doubtfulness here).  And the moral ambiguity of "peeping" is spelled out here at the beginning, because pretty soon, "peeping" is going to be an essential part of the plot, and it's going to become antithetical once Jeffries (and we) find it essential to getting answers...and stirring up trouble.

The Set-Up: L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is a photographer whose insistance on taking chances to get "THE shot" has left him with a broken leg and a long rehabilitation in his brownstone apartment (with courtyard).  Bored, he starts staring out his window across to his neighbors, who provide endless hours of fascination, much to the disgust of his nurse, Stella McGafferty (Thelma Ritter).



Jeff is seated in the foreground, in a waist shot.

Behind him, the entrance door to his apartment opens.

STELLA McGAFFERY comes in. She is a husky, unhandsome, dark-haired woman who is dressed like a district nurse, with dark   coat, dark felt hat, with a white uniform showing underneath the coat. She carries a small black bag.

Stella pauses on the landing to watch Jeff. He doesn't appear to notice her entrance.

STELLA (Loud) The New York State sentence for a peeping Tom... 

STELLA six months in the workhouse!

He doesn't turn.

JEFF Hello Stella.

As she comes down the stairs of the landing, holding on the wrought iron railing with one hand:

STELLA And there aren't any windows in the workhouse.

She puts her bag down on a table. It is worn, and looks as if it belongs more to a fighter than a nurse. She takes off her hat coat, and hangs them on a chair.

STELLA Years ago, they used to put out your eyes with a hot poker. Is one of those bikini bombshells you always watch worth a hot poker?

He doesn't answer. She opens the bag, takes out some medical supplies: a thermometer, a stop watch, a bottle of rubbing oil, a can of powder, a towel. She talks as she works.

STELLA We've grown to be a race of peeping Toms. What people should do is stand outside their own houses and look in once in a while.
(She looks up at him)
What do you think of that for homespun philosophy?

A look at his face shows he doesn't think much of it.

JEFF Readers' Digest, April, 1939.
STELLA Well, I only quote from the best.

She takes the thermometer out of its case, shakes it down. Looks at it. Satisfied, she walks to Jeff.

She swings the wheelchair around abruptly to face her.


Jeff starts to protest.

JEFF Now look, Stella --

She shoves the thermometer into his mouth.

STELLA See it you can break a hundred.

As she leaves him holding the thermometer THE CAMERA PULLS BACK as she crosses to a divan. She takes a sheet from underneath, and covers the divan with it. Talking, all the time.

STELLA I shoulda been a Gypsy fortune teller, instead of an insurance company nurse. I got a nose for trouble -- can smell it ten miles away.
(Stops, looks at him)

STELLA You heard of the stock market crash in '29?

Jeff nods a bored "yes."

STELLA I predicted it.

JEFF (Around thermometer) How?


Stella stops for a moment, and looks at Jeff challengingly.

STELLA Simple. I was nursing a director of General Motors. Kidney ailment they said. Nerves, I said. Then I asked myself -- what's General Motors got to be nervous about?
(Snaps her fingers)

STELLA Overproduction. Collapse, I answered. When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day -- the whole country's ready to let go.


A patient, suffering look comes over his face. He takes out the thermometer.

JEFF Stella -- in economics, a kidney ailment has no relationship to the stock market. Absolutely none.

STELLA It crashed, didn't it?

Jeff has no answer. Defeated, he puts the thermometer back into his mouth.


Stella goes on with her work.

STELLA I can smell trouble right in this apartment. You broke your leg. You look out the window. You see things you shouldn't. Trouble. 

STELLA I can see you now, in front of the judge, flanked by lawyers in blue double-breasted suits. You're pleading, "Judge, it was only innocent fun. I love my neighbors like a father." --

STELLA The Judge answers, "Congratulations. You just gave birth to three years in Dannemora."

THE CAMERA PANS HER over to him. She takes out the thermometer, looks at it.

JEFF Right now I'd even welcome trouble.

STELLA (Flatly) You've got a hormone deficiency.

JEFF How can you tell that from a thermometer!

STELLA Those sultry sun-worshipers you watch haven't raised your temperature one degree in four weeks.

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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