Nosiness is far from an admirable virtue, but can it also be hazardous to your health? Sometimes you don’t even have to be actively prying into someone else’s affairs to be burdened with unfortunate truth. The fact is that the simple act of catching a glimpse, or overhearing a few words, can jeopardize your ability to continue to utilize those senses as a living organism. In Brad Anderson’s The Call, Halle Berry plays a 911 operator who overhears a serial killer claiming his next victim. Years later, traumatized from not being able to save the woman on the other end of the line, she again finds herself on the phone with the killer’s new prey.
Throughout the course of cinema, there have been several films that have served as a warning against knowing too much. These voyeur thrillers have been crafted by some of the best directors and featured a slew of astounding performers. We thought we’d alert you to some of these films with a series of clips. View at your own risk.
Probably the best example of this type of film, and a highly regarded classic, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window asks us to consider how well we really know our neighbors. Jimmy Stewart plays a photographer who, due to a broken leg, suddenly finds himself whiling away his afternoons staring out the window. He becomes convinced that his neighbor across the courtyard has murdered his wife. Is the man across the way a killer, or is our idle hero’s flashbulb going dim? Rear Windowis the standard for voyeur thriller, and Hitch’s masterful direction makes this as much a gorgeous love story as it is a taut work of suspense.
Beholding something as terrible as a murder is traumatic enough, but when the witness to that murder is a small child, and those responsible are out to silence him, a hero needs to intervene. Luckily for our titular witness, Harrison Ford is one the case. Witness has the rare distinction of falling within the voyeur thriller mold, streamlining the genre in fact with its simplified conceit, and also functioning as a fish-out-of-water dramedy. Ford must enter the Amish community from which our pint-sized lead originates, and has trouble conforming to some of their principles; not raising one’s hands in anger for example.
Brian De Palma is an avid fan of the great Alfred Hitchcock, and several of De Palma’s films hit upon the same themes as did Hitch’s masterpieces. In Blow Out, De Palma re-mixes Rear Window into the story of a movie sound engineer who inadvertently records evidence of a murder. He works obsessively to get his vital information into the right ears, but no one seems to want the tapes to surface. The film is incredibly tense and superbly performed by a young John Travolta, but it is the music and the ending that make Blow Out a truly great film.
Have you ever been so sick that you couldn’t get out of bed? Have you ever been laid-up in bed and accidentally overheard a murder being planned? Sure, that’s a slightly less common occurrence, but that is precisely the situation faced by Barbara Stanwyck in the 1948 thriller Sorry, Wrong Number. The invalid woman’s phone line gets crossed and she overhears two men finalizing the details of a ghastly deed. Based on a radio play, Sorry, Wrong Number plays directly upon the fear of helplessness and isolation. If the film were remade today, it is likely the antiquated crossed phone lines would be replaced with an email plot device. Sorry, Wrong Inbox?
Seven years prior to Blow Out, Francis Ford Coppola gave us his own story about a fateful listener. The Conversation stars Gene Hackman as a professional eavesdropper, hired by countless clients to obtain incriminating audio. His moral ambiguity is tested when he begins to realize that a couple he has put under surveillance may be the target of a murder. The film delves deeply into the idea of paranoia, and the irony of a privacy-invader becoming consumed with the fear of his own privacy being jeopardized. In this clip, he furiously looks for the bug he knows must be in his apartment.
[Photo Credit: TriStar Pictures]