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The Prosaic Evil of Hitchcock’s Rear Window



If Alfred Hitchcock brought evil to a prosaic town in Shadow of a Doubt, then in Rear Window, he brought the prosaic evil to the big city. Photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) is trapped over a sweltering hot summer in his Greenwich Village apartment after breaking his leg on the job. Confined to a wheelchair with only part-time companionship provided by his model girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly), and his nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), Jeff wiles away the hours by spying on his neighbors. And while Stella complains, “We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms,” Jeff’s new hobby seems harmless enough. He learns enough about his neighbors to grant some of them nicknames — Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy) for the constantly flexing dancer and Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn) for the woman he observes entertaining imaginary dates.

Jeff can see across the courtyard into the block of windows opposite his own, and there’s nothing unusual in any of them. He observes that the salesman (Raymond Burr) across the way possesses a nasty temper when he rudely rebuffs a neighbor who tries to talk to him while he waters his rosebushes in the courtyard below, but he also sees that the man has his hands full with an invalid wife who fills her own empty days with nagging her husband. But then a scream pierces the darkened courtyard and Jeff watches as the salesman leaves with his suitcase in the dead of night, only to return and leave again, and his suspicions are aroused. The next day, the salesman’s wife is gone. Jeff becomes convinced — and manages to convince Lisa and Stella — that the woman is dead, murdered. His suspicions aren’t based on any real knowledge, just on what he observes through his rear window — suspicions that Jeff’s cop friend, Doyle (Wendell Corey) dismisses as the imaginings of a bored man.


Hitchcock never shows the actual murder in Rear Window. The salesman’s act is merely implied by his actions — his nocturnal comings and goings, the way he wraps a knife and saw in newspaper and washes down his bathroom walls. It’s not until a little dog has its neck broken that the neighbors realize there is some kind of malevolence in their midst. Even then, except from Jeff’s viewpoint, it could be any one of them. The dog’s owner so much as says so, implying that evil can manifest anywhere, even in a neighborhood full of ordinary people. And the salesman is resolutely ordinary. When he confronts Jeff at the climax of Rear Window, he’s more petulant than vicious, wanting to know what Jeff wants from him — why is he picking on him?


Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s most satisfying thrillers as the suspense drives the film inexorably forward, even though virtually nothing happens on-screen. Jeff is a sitting duck, trapped in that wheelchair. More than that, though, Rear Window brings the idea of murder to everyday life and the idea that any life, no matter how normal and mundane, can be touched by murder. Like Shadow of Doubt, Rear Window shows that no matter how well we think we know our friends, family, and neighbors, that doesn’t mean they (or we) are incapable of the unthinkable. Shadow of a Doubt and Rear Window are among Hitchcock’s best, because they demonstrate the evil in the heart of man — and that man is Everyman.



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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