Popcorn and a Movie: Peering into a perfect movie

When the mainstream recollects master director Alfred Hitchock’s films, “Psycho” (1960) is usually at the forefront of the mass mind. It’s a great movie, but not his best, reinforced in popular culture by its high place on best-horror-film lists, that oft-brought-up shower scene and a stop on the Universal Studios movie tour.

But when I think of Hitchcock and think of Hitchcock’s best — and one of the best movies of suspense or any genre — I think of Jimmy Stewart as a photographer laid up with a broken leg in his tiny, hot Greenwich Village apartment, whose only amusement is his conveniently voyeuristic view of his neighbors through his own back windows, flung open to receive any relief from the heat.

“Rear Window” (1954) is a perfect movie, as compellingly watchable as the neighborhood courtyard Stewart’s L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries can’t take his eyes off of. I never get tired of watching “Rear Window.” I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it over the years. I envy those who have not yet seen “Rear Window” (please see it — you are in for such a treat), and wonder of those who don’t think much of it.

As the days grow duskier, it’s a perfect time to settle in with some popcorn and a great mystery movie. This one is tops, for so many reasons.

The Director: It’s been said that “Rear Window,” represents the great director at his best. Hitchcock was on his full game here and everything succeeded. He was the perfect helmsman who brought together the right story, with the right actors in the right era reflecting the right setting, with the skill to draw forth that subjective perspective, putting audiences in the wheelchair along with Jeff, feeling his every frustration, boredom, curiosity, tension, heartache and pure fear. Hitchcock’s masterful plan for “Rear Window,” has us living out every palpable moment as if we, too, are watching a possible murder unfold across the courtyard.

The Story: “Rear Window,” based on a 1942 short story called, “It Had To Be Murder,” by Cornell Woolrich, was fleshed out for the screen by John Michael Hayes, who added the romantic relationship between Jeff and socialite Lisa Fremont (played by the flawless Grace Kelly), basing the little arguments and differences between the couple on those of he and his wife. Jeff, a successful photojournalist, makes bis living by observing, and is usually traveling to war-torn destinations. Lisa, well-placed (and well-fashioned) in the New York social scene, longs for Jeff to settle down, but he resists.

Now wheelchair-bound, Jeff cannot simply turn off his eyes, ever searching and seeing from a story point-of-view. And as he watches and assesses neighbors, from a frustrated songwriter to a single woman conjuring imaginary romance (whom he dubs “Miss Lonelyhearts”); from a newly married couple adjusting to coupledom to an older married couple constantly bickering, we see Jeff identify with the lives of each in his own apartment of captivity. He becomes a victim of his own observations and imaginations when he believes he witnesses a murder. It is both tantalizing and agonizing to watch unfold, and we can relate to the questions we all ask ourselves about the world around us: do we close the blinds, watch with eyes wide open or, even, become involved?

The Actors: Jimmy Stewart, the last great film everyman whom everyone could imagine himself as and everyone loved to watch, is ideal as Jeff — sardonic yet lovable, ambitious yet down-to-earth. This story, through Stewart’s eyes, is key to the film’s success. Grace Kelly is pure blonde magical sunshine. She was still new to film when “Rear Window” was made, but she was as fully herself, natural and true perfection as the clever, fashionable, successful girl, never to be underestimated, who loved Jeff. Supporting players, such as Thelma Ritter, as Jeff’s hilarious home care nurse, and Raymond Burr as the ominous neighbor Thorwald, along with the other neighbors Jeff watches (a dancer he calls “Miss Torso,” an eccentric sculptor, an elderly couple with a little dog), were all cast to perfection.

The Era: Part of the allure of watching “Rear Window,” is witnessing such an era of class…the mid-1950s to the early 1960s may have been our last dignified, classy time as a human species. Even though the movie calls up some ugly aspects of humanity, by comparison to today, there is a respectful sophistication to this movie in the culture, the music, the style and dress (the film, costumed by the great Edith Head, had Grace Kelly in some amazing fashions that are alone worth watching), the hopes and dreams of the characters.

The Set: The multi-leveled and layered courtyard visible from Jeff’s apartment was a set created entirely on a soundstage, and based on a real New York apartment complex. It’s a beautiful and somehow realistic representation of New York life, almost theatrical, as if each apartment is a little stage where stories are played out within viewing distance.

I know I’ll keep watching.

It seems perfect that a movie filled with tension have an aptly crunchy snack to help defray one’s nerves. My “Rear Window”-inspired popcorn drew its flavors from the fact that Grace Kelly’s Lisa brings in dinner for Jeff from a famous New York restaurant, 21 Club. I tried to combine flavors from an elegant steakhouse (even though Lisa and Jeff dine on lobster tails and pommes frites), also due to reading somewhere that steak was an Alfred Hitchcock favorite. The popcorn, buttered from the get-go so the seasonings will adhere to each crisp kernel, is subtly flavored with blue cheese powder (available on Amazon and in some grocery stores) and a bit of steak seasoning (use your favorite, but I recommend one that includes a bit of black pepper).

Tapping into my favorite steakhouse salads that not only have blue cheese, but also something sweet to balance out the salt and tang, I garnished this popcorn with candied walnuts. Sweet enticements — like mysteries and movie classics — are always alluring…

Mystery Night Supper Club Popcorn
Makes 2 to 4 servings

6 to 7 cups freshly popped corn
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons blue cheese powder
1 teaspoon steak seasoning (recommended McCormick), or more to taste
1 cup candied walnuts, chopped with additional for garnished, if desired

Place popcorn in a large mixing bowl, toss with melted butter to distribute evenly. Sprinkle in blue cheese powder and steak seasoning, combine to season all corn. Add in candied walnuts. Serve immediately in individual bowls with some walnuts on top to garnish each serving.

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