Great directors can take a restriction like a single, confined location and turn into something especially extraordinary. Because the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet and Louis Malle prove that these are not limits at all, but sources of cinematic inspiration. It what you do with that space that is of the utmost importance.
1. Rear Window (1954)
The ultimate thriller, utilizing one Greenwich Village apartment complex to the nth degree. Jimmy Stewart being confined to a wheelchair has never been so compelling as he begins to suspect that his neighbor across courtyard is a wife murderer. Hitchcock builds up the tension by not allowing his character to escape, and he becomes embroiled in intrigue as well as romance. It all leads to a crackerjack ending.
There have been many courtroom dramas, but the beauty of this character study is its new perspective. Sidney Lumet’s debut is a thing of beauty, because he lets his characters work and there are 12 wonderful actors all playing off each other. The story is simple. These men must decide if a young boy should be sent to the electric chair. Put them together in a room for an hour and a half and we learn more about mankind than we could possibly imagine. There’s nothing to make the temperature rise like 12 angry men in a room together.
Hitchcock was always one for technical challenges and Lifeboat is a film that reflects his penchant for cinematic experiments. After an ocean liner is sunk numerous passengers are forced to board a raft together, including friends and foes. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the war drama is how Hitch is able to keep the story from being stagnant. It’s surprisingly compelling for how simple it looks at first glance.
This film is less about dramatic tension and more about a concept. Two men sit together and share a conversation over dinner, full of all sorts of philosophical musings. Once again a simple premise gives way to interesting discussion led by Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory playing fictional versions of themselves.