Rear Window

Rear Window Study Guide

Rear Window is based on a story from the February 1942 issue of Dime Detective Magazine called "It Had to be Murder", written by Cornell Woolrich (under the pseudonym William Irish). Alfred Hitchcock, who was a longtime fan of Woolrich's pulp thrillers, was taken by the piece, but his goal in adapting it for the screen was to unify the narrative. Jeff doesn't have a girlfriend in Woolrich's version - Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes added that in. They also invented Jeff's job as a photojournalist, thinking that it would ease his transition into a voyeur. Besides that, the final plot of Rear Window remains fairly close to Woolrich's original work.

Before Hayes started writing the script for Rear Window, Hitchcock insisted that he spend time with James Stewart and Grace Kelly because he envisioned them in the lead roles and wanted the writer to get a feel for them. Hayes officially started writing the screenplay for Rear Window in the fall of 1953. Hayes wrote quickly, and Hitchcock was so pleased with his work that he immediately added a fourth film to Hayes's contract with Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, under which he was being paid $15,000 a week.

By September 1953, Hitchcock was in pre-production with his crew at Paramount Studios. When Hitchcock set out to make Rear Window, he wanted to make a film that was very contained in a specific, limited world (like his 1944 effort, Lifeboat). Therefore, all of Rear Window is shot on a soundstage. Art Director Joseph MacMillan Johnson and his team built 31 apartments, 12 of which were fully furnished, with the Manhattan skyline in the background. Attention to detail was crucial because Hitchcock needed the apartments to be clearly visible when shot in a wide depth of field. Additionally, Hitchcock worked with his costume team (led by the legendary Edith Head, with whom he worked on all his Paramount films) to establish color codes for the characters that populate the apartments so that Jeff (and the audience) would be able to tell them apart from a distance. For example, Miss Lonelyhearts is the only one who ever wears emerald green.

James Stewart, who had previously worked with Hitchcock on Rope (1948), took a reduced salary in order to participate in Rear Window. While they weren't particularly affectionate with each other, Hitchcock and Stewart shared a mutual respect and understanding. Critic Patrick McGilligan even calls Stewart Hitchcock's "American alter ego" (488). Meanwhile, everyone on set was "crazy about Grace Kelly." Like her character, Lisa, she was, by all accounts, sweet and kind. McGilligan posits that because the famously difficult Hitchcock cared deeply for his two stars on a personal level, the production phase of Rear Window was much more carefree than some of his other films.

Rear Window screened at the 1954 Venice Film Festival and opened in the United States in August of 1954. Bosley Crowther, the legendary film critic for the New York Times, called it "tense" and "exciting," praising Hitchcock and Hayes for their "precision" in storytelling. He pointed out how the film exposes "many facets of the loneliness of city life and it tacitly demonstrates the impulse of morbid curiosity. The purpose of it is sensation, and that it generally provides in the colorfulness of its detail and in the flood of menace toward the end." Critics at the time agreed that Rear Window was one of Mr. Hitchcock's finest works to date. It remains on several noted lists and databases as one of the best American films of all time.