- by Michael Rickard II
"'Rear Window': How to Turn a Short Story into a 112 Minute Film. Part Four of Four.&qu
Another important cinematic element is dramatic performances. Francois Truffaut observed about Hitchcock that "The neutrality you expect from your actors is an interesting concept. The point is clearly made in some of your more recent pictures, like Rear Window or Vertigo. In both films, James Stewart isn't required to emote; he simply looks- three or four hundred times-and then you show the viewer what he's looking at" (Truffaut 111). How much did dramatic performances play a part in Hitchcock's filmmaking? While dramatic performances were not as important to Hitchcock as they were to other directors, he knew the value of star power, acting ability, and proper casting. The film's two stars played roles they were often cast in with James Stewart playing an everyman type and Grace Kelly playing the beautiful and elegant model Lisa. Although it could be argued that Hitchcock could have cast anyone, since he relied more on the camera than he did on dramatic performances, it is difficult to imagine Raymond Burr playing Jeff or Thelma Ritter playing Lisa. Instead, they perform in suitable roles with Raymond Burr capturing Thorwald's ordinary but dangerous nature. He is no criminal mastermind but his desperation makes him dangerous. Thelma Ritter often played working class characters and she shines in her role here as Jeff's nurse. An example of Stewart's contribution to Rear Window is his subtle use of facial expressions. For example, in one short scene, James Stewart is seen watching the recently arrived newlyweds. He watches with interest as the husband carries his wife across the threshold. A medium shot of Stewart shows him watching with interest as the newlyweds embrace and kiss. He looks away, but his facial expressions reveal his curiosity, and he looks back at them until they pull the window curtain down. Stewart's acting combined with Hitchcock's use of the camera show us Jeff's voyeuristic nature. In another scene, we see a close-up of Jeff's face when Lisa returns from her mission to investigate Thorwald. Stewart's facial expressions convey how impressed he is with her. Another great scene made all the better by Stewart's facial expressions is at the film's climax. Hitchcock keeps the camera on Stewart's face as Jeff answers the phone again, thinking it's his detective friend Doyle. The look of panic on Jeff's face tells us he realizes that he is in danger. The camera stays on Stewart as he looks around, panic-stricken. He hears something, and we see a long shot of his apartment door. A medium shot reveals Jeff is frozen with fear. Finally, he moves, taking his flashbulbs, preparing for his confrontation with Thorwald.
Although Hitchcock is known for his intensive use of visuals, his use of sound is evident in Rear Window. Some of it is obvious while some of it is subtle. A siren goes off in the distance when Mrs. Thorwald discovers her husband talking to someone behind her back. This foreshadows the danger she will encounter. This is reminiscent of the scene in The Blue Angel where a foghorn goes off as Professor Rath is about to enter the nightclub and meet his doom in the form of femme fatale singer Lola Lola. Hitchcock's use of the sound of breaking glass and Mrs. Thorwald's scream send the message that something terrible is happening. Hitchcock also relies on music to tell the story. Rear Window's score was composed by Franz Waxman who wrote the opening and closing music. Hitchcock also uses diegetic music to subtly enhance the story. For example, "Amore" plays when we see the newlyweds entering their new apartment. The people at the composer's party sing "Mona Lisa" as Miss Lonelyhearts entertains her guest. Finally, there is the piece of music the Composer writes that lifts Miss Lonelyhearts out of her suicidal spirit and that he shares with her at the film's end.
Alfred Hitchcock clearly employs an interweaving strategy with Rear Window to adapt the short story "It Had to Be Murder" into a feature length film. He maintains the story's plot of a nosy neighbor (or voyeur depending on how you interpret things) who believes his neighbor has committed murder and expands the story by adding a love interest along with a tapestry of subplots involving the daily lives of the neighbors. These additions help Hitchcock explore "Murder's" plot and themes, expanding the short story into a feature film.
Rear Window is an intermediate adaptation of "It Had to Be Murder". Hitchcock retains the short story's protagonist, antagonist, and two supporting characters (changing one from male to female). He also adds the major character Lisa in order to provide a love interest for Jeffries. Hitchcock also adds several subplots to the story both to expand the story into a feature length film and to further explore the theme of voyeurism and neighborliness. Hitchcock's addition of the Lisa character, the romantic subplot, and the theme of whether two very different people can find lasting love is enough to make the film an intermediate rather than close adaptation. Hitchcock's retention of the Jeffries character, the setting, the themes of voyeurism and neighborliness, and Jeff's investigation of the murder are enough to keep it from being a loose adaptation.
Desmond, John M. & Peter Hawkes. Adaptation: Studying Film & Literature. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005. Fawell, John. "Torturing Women and Mocking Men: Hitchcock's Rear Window". The Midwest Quarterly. 44.1 (Autumn 2002). 88. Hirsch, Foster. The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2008. Howe, Lawrence. "Through the Looking Glass: Reflexivity, Reciprocality, and Defenestration in Hitchcock's Rear Window." College Literature, 35.1, Winter 2008. 16-37. Rear Window. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr. Paramount Pictures, 1954. Film.