Rear Window, released in 1954 and directed by the “Master of Suspense” Alfred Hitchcock was produced by Paramount studios starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter. Shot in Technicolor which was restored to what we would have seen when the film was shot. The colors were helpful in making the film come to life. This movie was one of Paramount’s biggest sets.
Rear Window was seen as Hitchcock’s seen as one his most mature pieces, the fact that it’s all shot in studio did not hinder any of the camera shots vs. it being on location. This is Hitchcock’s way of showing objects and association in what’s going on – in the beginning of the film and all throughout we get close ups of objects to relate to the moods and time of day (i.e., the thermometer with heat and close-up of watch with early AM view).
There are dolly-ins to the different apartments, and camera panning both left and right to show the entire complex. Many of the intimate shots between Kelly and Stewart have a shallow depth of field where you have the background apartments out of focus. As Stewart’s character Jeffries looks thorough the binoculars you begin to see his point of view which is constant throughout the film. When Jeffries suspects the Salesman (Thorwald) of murdering his wife he decides he needs a closer point of view and brings out the telephoto lens. This lens allows for details and becomes and important aspect of the film to Jeffries finding out that Thorwald has committed the crime. The camera tilts up and down to hint a secret spot (flower bed), that viewers don’t realize until the end of the film.
Stewart has three roles throughout the film, (1) the wandering male character of Jeffries, (2) the camera man as he pans with his own telephoto lens to watch and (3) the director – he has a complete view on the “house of fiction” via his Rear Window. It’s Hitchcock’s own story with Jeffries in the director’s chair (his wheelchair). With the constant panning throughout the movie, the telephoto lens that Jeffries holds has the slightest shake to it as he watches Thorwald move from room to room. We are shown shots within shots from the viewfinder as Jeffries gets closer to solving the mystery (i.e. figuring out the clue to the flower bed). And at the climax of the film, fast motion is used to show neighbors coming from their homes as Jeffries dangles from his window.
Unlike the short story the flower bed holds the secret to a piece of the murder unlike the cement wall. There is no Sam who brings food or runs around for him. In the movie Jeffries is aided by his girlfriend Lisa and his nurse, Stella. LB Jeffries lives in the apartment, while in the short story he resided in a house. The characters were adapted for thematic purposes. The newlyweds that went out every night have become the newlyweds that stay in. And Miss Lonleyhearts is no longer the widow who lives with her daughter. The only constant characters are L.B. Jeffries--who in the story was named Hal Jeffries, also restricted to movement--and his doppelganger, Thorwald with the sick wife. Hitchcock’s films fill the void in showing us vs. describing what could have happened while characters are asleep (i.e. “Wife” is shown leaving in AM).
Stewart’s view is restricted like the story because he can’t completely see what’s going on; like a dollhouse with the rear wall cut out. Before Jeffries suspects his neighbor of murder, as an audience we see the guilt in Thorwald first, because he’s looking all around to make sure no one is watching him. Thorwald’s constant guilt-watch in the story isn’t noticed right away. Jeff is a little slower to pick up what’s going on…or rather he’s not that involved, he reassures himself with reasoning as to why no one was checking in on the wife (“delayed action). In the film, Jeffries just knows right away that something isn’t right and becomes fixated on the salesman while occasionally checking back in on the other characters in the “doll house”. There is a scene in the story where the movements between Thorwald in his apartment and the landlord showing the two tenants the space above him are in synch (only to reveal later where the body of Mrs. Thorwald is). There is a moment of synchronization between floors in the film as well however they are between Lisa (Grace Kelly) and Miss Lonelyheart as they both realize the man with the piano has stopped playing his music. This was done using a wide camera lens, making a greater picture than if it were a zoom in (because you wouldn’t be able to see both women).
Light symbolizes life and you saw that in everyone’s apartment. The lights were always on and they were carrying on with the everyday business. Thorwald’s apartment was always dark. The lights were always off which you associate with an evil character. The only sign of him being present was the constant lighting of the matches in the dark. Shadows are used re-create natural light from the sun. They are also used to hide both the good characters from being seen as well as the murder. Shadows are also played with through the drawn shades, and as an audience you are left to wonder.
The obvious difference in the film and story’s ending was that instead of Jeff becoming free and getting his cast taken off, Jeffries breaks his other leg and is further entrapped—so to speak--in his relationship with Lisa (Kelly).
Rear Window is a great film, one of my favorites by Hitchock. All in all, it doesn't even compare to the short story. The movie really brings every element that you'd need camera-shot wise and for acting skills that it comes together beautifully.