Rear Window (1954)
Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey,
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by John Michael Hayes
From the short story by Cornell Woolrich
Hitchcock's "Rear Window" is a great suspense film, but it’s also a brilliant exploration of "rear window ethics:" how far we can and should go in trying to understand other people. Blessed with excellent writing and acting, Hitchcock goes well beyond the voyeurism of a laid-up photographer (James Stewart) to address the potential and the limits of society's interventions into our lives, as representatives of the press, law enforcement, health care and the arts track a possible killer who works in...sales. As these social guardians confront a product of the market, the film dissects human experience from the vantage point of Stewart's wheelchair—as we do from the seat of a movie theater.
L.B. Jeffries (Stewart) is a successful photographer with a rough global beat who has been trapped in his Manhattan apartment for weeks with a broken leg. His only relief from cabin fever is to monitor the lives of his many neighbors, on full display to him through a window that overlooks his building's courtyard. Jeffries begins to suspect that one of his neighbors, salesman Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), has killed his invalid wife. Jeffries at first has trouble convincing his two sharp daily visitors--his irresistible fashion model girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) and no-nonsense "insurance company nurse" Stella (Thelma Ritter)--that a crime has occurred, or that he has any right or ability to know others' private affairs. But suspicious events continue, and all are drawn into the web of intrigue. Only Jeffries' old war buddy Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), a police detective who checks into the matter as a favor, continues to resist his theories. As the amateur sleuths take greater risks to learn the truth, the hunters become the hunted.
Working autonomously, insurance company nurse Stella visits Jeffries' apartment daily, monitoring his condition, doing massage and preparing food. The care shown might not meet current standards; Stella never encourages Jeffries to walk with crutches, and he spends all his time in a wheelchair. But Stella is clearly helping him heal, and he appreciates it. Stella also displays her knowledge of medications when she and the other voyeurs see what may be an impending suicide. In this scene, she makes an understandable judgement error that is rectified by a piece of music, perhaps a sly comment by the filmmakers about the power of art compared to science. Stella is a key member of the team that gathers around Jeffries to solve the apparent crime. Like Lisa and Tom, she is initially skeptical but becomes a full partner in analyzing the situation and ultimately in taking bold action. Early in the film, Stella also engages Jeffries in a lengthy dialogue about whether he should marry Lisa. Stella notes that she is "not an educated woman," but her tough, common sense arguments that Jeffries should marry Lisa are at least as persuasive as his somewhat pompous demurrals. Stella's interventions seem to reflect the film's larger questions about how far people should intrude into others’ affairs, and how well anyone can really understand another. Although health care per se is a relatively minor part of the film, Thelma Ritter does a good job playing a quick-witted nurse with wisdom, skills and guts.
Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed March 3, 2003
The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.