VERTIGO (1958): “I need you to be Madeleine for awhile.”

VERTIGO – 1958 – Paramount Pictures – ★★★★★

Color – 128 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Principal cast:  Kim Novak (Judy Barton/Madeleine Elster), James Stewart (John “Scottie” Ferguson), Barbara Bel Geddes (Marjorie “Midge” Wood), Tom Helmore (Gavin Elster), Henry Jones (Coroner).

Screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor, based on the novel D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

Cinematography by Robert Burks

Edited by George Tomasini

Music by Bernard Herrmann

Costumes by Edith Head

Title sequence designed by Saul Bass

(My analysis of Vertigo will be divided into two parts.)

In 1956 Paramount purchased  two books as potential Alfred Hitchcock projects:  Flamingo Feather, and D’entre Les Morts (From Among the Dead).  He was planning to make Flamingo Feather first;  it was announced in the trade papers as his next movie, and he went so far as to take a trip to South Africa, scouting locations for the movie.  What he saw there discouraged him.  He felt the movie would be costly, and the political subject matter touchy.  So after returning to Hollywood, he scrapped this movie for From Among the Dead, the movie that would become Vertigo.  

Alfred Hitchcock sometimes chose his projects based on one particular scene or concept in the source material that intrigued him.  He wanted to make Psycho because of the shower murder; he wanted to make Marnie because of the honeymoon rape scene; and he wanted to make Vertigo because of the idea of a man remaking a woman into the image of another woman, now dead.   This idea of lost love and obsession was very intriguing to Hitchcock.

Vera Miles as Madeline?  Initially, Vera Miles was cast in the role of Madeline.  Hitchcock had signed Vera to an exclusive 5-year contract.  He had starred her in the pilot episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show, an episode that Hitchcock directed himself.  He then gave her the leading role in his film The Wrong Man, in which Miles gives one of the great performances in the Hitchcock canon, as a woman who loses her grip on reality when her husband is wrongfully accused of a crime.  Next on the agenda for her was Vertigo.  Hitchcock was convinced that this film would make her a star.  Below you can see a photo of an early costume test of Vera Miles as Madeline.

 

Shortly after this photo was taken, Vera announced to Hitchcock that she was pregnant.   He would now have to recast the role.   He ultimately settled on Kim Novak, borrowing her from Columbia Pictures.  Hitchcock was extremely unhappy with Vera Miles, although he did direct her two more times before her contract expired;  once more for television, and finally as Lila Crane in Psycho.

Titles by Saul Bass:  Alfred Hitchcock hired famous graphic designer Saul Bass to design the title sequence for Vertigo.  Saul Bass was one of the most influential designers of the 20th century.  Familiar logos designed by Bass are still used by many major corporations, and his movie posters are works of art.  Bass believed that a movie’s title sequence should not just be a dull scroll of names;  he thought the titles could serve as a sort of prologue to the film.  Bass said “I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”  His work on Vertigo is arguably his best.

The sequence begins with a close up of the lower portion of a woman’s face.  The camera focuses on her lips, then moves up to her eyes, finally zooming in on her right eye.  The film title actually comes out of her eye.  This is followed by several spiral designs.  These spirals were created for Bass by a man named John Whitney.  Whitney had to use an early computer which would plot the graphs of 19th century parametric equations and draw them perfectly on paper.  What the audience is seeing here is one of the earliest uses of computer graphics in a movie.

Of course it is impossible to talk about the title sequence without mentioning the great score of Bernard Herrmann, which is perfectly married to Bass’ titles, creating an unforgettable opening to the film.

The film opens with a rooftop chase, the city of San Francisco acting as a backdrop.  Jimmy Stewart is police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson, and he and a policeman are chasing a third man.  Who is this man and what is his crime?  We never learn.

An errant jump leaves Scottie hanging on for dear life.   The policeman attempts to pull Scottie up, but loses his balance and falls, presumably to his death.   Scottie discovers that he has vertigo, and if ever there was a bad time to learn that, it’s while you’re hanging from the side of a tall building.

The movie then cuts to an apartment interior, with San Francisco visible out the window.  Here sit Scottie and his friend (and former fiancee) Midge.  Scottie is holding a cane, and mentions a corset that is going to be removed soon.  How did he get injured?  Is the implication that he fell from the roof, and survived?  We never do learn just how he got down from there.

The expository dialogue here informs us that Scottie is now retired, because of his vertigo.  We can also plainly see from Midge’s looks that she still has feelings for Scottie.  He mentions that he is going to pay a call on an old college acquaintance that got in touch with him.

I could point how how perfect this scene is;  how the set design, costumes, dialogue and acting all paint such a perfect picture of these two characters, their current position in life and with each other, but I could say the same of any scene in this movie.  The technical construction of this film is near perfect.

Next (after Hitch’s cameo) we go to the interior of Gavin Elster’s office.  Elster is the old college chum who called up Scotty.  Once again, the set is exquisite.

Elster wants Scottie to follow his wife.  She is acting strange, leaving for long periods of time, and he wants to know why.  Scottie is reluctant, but Elster convinces him to go to a restaurant that night where the Elsters will be dining, so he can see her.

(For a continuing look at the film’s sequences, and the introduction of Madeleine, see Vertigo Part Two.)

Performance:   This film is very well cast, and every performance is great.  First notice has to go to Kim Novak, who I believe pulls off the greatest performance by a female lead in any Hitchcock film.   She is essentially playing two roles, both of them multi-layered.   There are rumors that Hitchcock partially blamed Jimmy Stewart for this film’s initial box office failings;  that perhaps he was too old to play the part.  I don’t know if Hitchcock truly felt this way, but I disagree completely.  Scottie Ferguson had to be older;  the fact that he is a seasoned detective makes the film all the more powerful.   Stewart shows us a darker, obsessive side seldom if ever seen on the screen outside of this performance.  Barbara Bel Geddes also shows her range in the part of Midge, Scottie’s friend who clearly still has feelings for him.

Source material:  The screenplay is based on the novel D’entre les Morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, a French duo who co-wrote over a dozen novels together.  The film retains the basic plot of the novel, with some minor changes.  The book begins in France, during the Second World War.   A prosperous shipbuilder named Gevigne asks an old schoolmate named Flavieres to follow his wife.  There is a similar set-up as in the novel, with Gevigne telling Flavieres that his wife Madeleine (the one named retained for the movie) appears to be haunted by the spirit of her great-grandmother.   Just as in the film, the protagonist has vertigo;  he falls in love with “Madeleine”; and he watches in horror as she falls from a church tower.  At this point in the novel comes the German occupation, which makes a nice point to divide the story.  Years later, after the war, Flavieres sees a woman that reminds him of Madeleine.   Just as in the film, he courts her, dates her, and ultimately gets her to confess to the plot, which is the same as in the movie.   Although in the novel, Flavieres, consumed with rage, begins choking the woman (named Renee in the book), and without realizing what he is doing, strangles her to death.  An even darker ending than the movie.

Recurring players:  Jimmy Stewart had earlier appeared in Rope, Rear Window, and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).  Tom Helmore had appeared in a couple of very early Hitchcock films, The Ring and Secret Agent.  Paul Bryar (Captain Hansen) had uncredited roles in Notorious and The Wrong Man.  Bess Flowers (the Queen of the Hollywood extras) appeared as an extra in seven other Hitchcock films.  Fred Graham (the policeman who falls at the beginning) earlier played a policeman in Rear Window.  Forbes Murray (one of the diners at Ernies) had earlier played the judge in Dial M For Murder.  Jeffrey Sayre (another diner at Ernie’s) also had small uncredited appearences in Saboteur, Notorious, and North by Northwest.

Academy Awards:  It seems shocking today to learn that Vertigo was only nominated for two Oscars (Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Best Sound) winning neither.

Where’s Hitch?  Hitchcock’s cameo comes at about the 11:40 mark.  He crosses left to right in front of Gavin Elster’s shipyard.   He carries a strange-shaped case in his hands.  People speculated for years that it must be a musical instrument; a trumpet, perhaps?  That is actually a case for a manual foghorn!  Very appropriate, considering the movie’s locale.

What Hitch said:   In summing up the plot, Hitchcock says to Truffaut:  “To put it plainly, the man wants to go to bed with a woman who’s dead; he is indulging in a form of necrophilia.”

He also says:

Cinematically, all of Stewart’s efforts to recreate the dead woman are shown in such a way that he seems to be trying to undress her, instead of the other way around.  What I liked best is when the girl came back after having had her hair dyed blond.  James Steward is disappointed because she hasn’t put her hair up in a bun.  What this really means is that the girl has almost stripped, but she still won’t take her knickers off.  When he insists, she says, “All right!” and goes into the bathroom while he waits outside.  What Stewart is really waiting for is for the woman to emerge totally naked this time, and ready for love.

Definitive edition:  The 2014 Universal blu ray release (which is also available as part of the Masterpiece Collection box set) is the best version available.   Picture and sound are absolutely sublime.  The disc includes many extras, including a commentary track by filmmaker William Friedkin, a half hour documentary on the making and restoration of Vertigo, an hour’s worth of material on four of Hitchcock’s key collaborators, an extended ending shot to appease foreign censors, 14 minutes of excerpts from the Truffaut interviews, a nine-minute mini doc on Lew Wasserman, a multitude of production designs drawings and photos, and two trailers.   Left off unfortunately is the commentary track from the earlier DVD release which featured the film’s associate producer Herbert Coleman, along with the two men responsible for the amazing 1996 restoration, Robert Harris and James Katz.  Coleman was a long-time friend and collaborator of Hitchcock, and his memories are worth hearing.

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78/52: HITCHCOCK’S SHOWER SCENE: “He has broken the covenant of filmmaker and audience”

78/52:  HITCHCOCK’S SHOWER SCENE (2017) – IFC Midnight – ★★★ 

B&W – 91 mins. – 1.78:1

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

Featuring:  Guillermo del Toro, Walter Murch, Danny Elfman, Peter Bogdanovich, Ileanna Douglas, Eli Roth, and many more, through direct interview and archival footage.

There have been plenty of documentaries made about particular film directors, and particular films.  This may be the first documentary inspired by one scene from one movie.    Granted, it is an iconic scene.  (The title is based on the 78 different camera set ups and the 52 editorial cuts in Psycho‘s shower scene).  I first saw Psycho on television in the early 80’s, by which time the horror “new wave” was in full swing.  Little did I know how significant was Hitchcock’s film.

This film, like many documentaries, is a series of “talking head” shots, of dozens of people in the film industry, talking about the importance of Psycho in general, and the shower scene in particular.   There is a good balance between historical information (the nuts and bolts of how the scene was shot) as well as more abstract discussion about the meaning and influence of the scene.

Director Alexandre O. Philippe is a long-time documentarian, whose best known work is The People vs. George Lucas, which examined the often contentious post-prequel relationship between the creator of the Star Wars universe and his fans.  Whereas the George Lucas film was seen by many as overly critical of its namesake, this new documentary is more complementary to Alfred Hitchcock.  This is a film that could only have been made by a fan;  who else but a die-hard fan would stab casaba melons with a knife in an attempt to recreate the foley sounds Hitchcock had created to represent the stabs of the knife in the shower scene?

Director Philippe does make a couple of artistic choices that detract from the overall appeal of the film, in my opinion.  First of all, the movie opens with some re-created shots; scenes attempting to mirror similar scenes from Psycho.  So we get to see some girl, who is not Janet Leigh, driving a car in the rain, with camera set-ups similar to those used by Hitchcock.   These shots are unnecessary.

He also made the decision to shoot the movie in black and white.   I have seen at least one review dismiss this as pretension.  Since Psycho was in black and white, perhaps it makes some artistic sense, because we will be viewing clips and still images from the earlier film frequently?  Except, we also see color clips (several of them) from other movies, which breaks the artistic framework established by black and white.  Ultimately, I don’t think it really makes any difference.  I would probably feel exactly the same way about this movie were it shot in color.

There are an awful lot of images of people watching the shower scene, and reacting to it.  This is similar to the many youtube videos which show peoples’ reaction shots, without seeing what they are reacting too.  While it might be cool for two seconds to watch Elijah Wood going “Oh my God!” as he watches the shower scene, this particular contrivance gets old quickly.

For any fan of Hitchcock, though, there is much to enjoy here. We get to hear  Guillermo del Toro talk about Hitchcock “breaking the covenant” between director and audience by killing off the female protagonist a half hour in to the movie.  We hear the brilliant film editor Walter Murch discussing the editorial choices made in the scene.  We hear Danny Elfman talk about how much he was influenced by the musical score of Bernard Herrmann.    These scenes form the meat of the movie, and are the most appealing to watch.

If you are interested in learning about how this groundbreaking, game-changing scene was made, and the impact it had, then this movie is well worth 90 minutes of your time.  The blu ray also includes bonus interview footage of both Walter Murch and Guillermo del Toro,  which is a real godsend for fans of these two influential filmmakers.  Also included is footage of a variety of melons being stabbed, and the original theatrical trailer.

 

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH: Deconstruction of a Scene – Royal Albert Hall (1934 vs. 1956)

Alfred Hitchcock was asked once about the differences between his two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much.  He replied that the first was the work of a talented amateur, and the second was the work of a professional.   I would argue that he’s being a bit modest calling himself an amateur.  By 1934, Hitchcock had been in the movie industry for over a decade, and had directed a dozen movies.  I think that qualifies for slightly better than amateur status.

While both versions of this movie are good, sometimes for very different reasons, when watching them back-to-back I find the original to be much more engaging and fresh.  Both versions feature a penultimate scene that takes place in the Royal Albert Hall. (As far as the final scene is concerned, the original movie wins by a mile, in my opinion.  Would you rather watch Edna Best take a rifle from a policeman and shoot the villain off the roof, or would you rather hear Doris Day sing “Que Sera Sera”?  That’s an easy choice for me.)  I thought it would be interesting to compare the two Albert Hall sequences.  The set-up of both scenes is the same:  The heroine arrives at the Albert Hall as her child is being held hostage.  She knows that an assassination is planned at the Hall, and will attempt to stop it, with no clear idea how to do so without risking her child.

In the earlier version, the sequence runs around 6 minutes and 10 seconds, with approximately 91 editorial cuts, which averages one cut every 4.1 seconds.

In the remake, the sequence is much longer, running around 14 minutes and 20 seconds, with approximately 193 editorial cuts.  This averages out to one cut every 4.5 seconds.  So even though the scene is considerably longer, Hitchcock’s cutting overall is very similar.  So let’s look at where the scenes are similar, and where they differ.  (The reason for the difference in frame size is because the first film was shot in a 1.33:1 ratio, which was the standard at the time, and the remake was shot in VistaVision and shown in a 1.85:1 ratio).

Both scenes begin with an establishing shot of the Royal Albert Hall exterior, advertising the concert about to take place.

 

 

We now have similar shots of Edna Best and Doris Day in the Albert Hall lobby, not quite sure what they are looking for.

 

 

Next, we get subjective POV shots, as they both recognize the assassin.

 

 

At this point in both films, after the heroine speaks to the assassin, she makes her way into the Hall.  One difference is that Edna Best actually takes a seat, whereas Doris Day stands in an aisle way.

 

 

The later movie begins to stretch out just a little bit here, taking more time to set the scene before the music begins.

We get these POV shots, as Doris Day locates both the dignitaries’ box, and the assassin’s box.  So the geography of the scene is already established for the viewer.

 

 

Next, the music begins, with a series of similar establishing shots.

 

 

The remake again takes a little more time here, with a greater variety of shots, from a variety of angles.  The older, more established Hitchcock does a better job of building suspense, even making sure to point out both the cymbalist and his instruments early in the sequence.

 

 

In the remake, Alfred Hitchcock has a VistaVision camera and he intends to make the most of it, giving us almost every conceivable camera angle of the musicians in the Albert Hall.  From the left:

 

From the right:

 

Even from above, in strange angles like this one:

 

After this both films follow a similar pattern.  We see our heroine looking, then we see what she is looking at.  This is textbook subjective POV.

 

Now the original film does something clever, out of necessity.  The camera pans along a wire, stopping on a radio transmitter.  Hitchcock uses this as a means to cut to the conspirators’ hideout, so we can see their reactions as they listen on the radio.  This is important because this is where both father and daughter are still being held captive.

 

 

Just as this sequence is unique to the original, the remake has a new sequence here.   Whereas the male lead was still a prisoner in the first film, in the remake Jimmy Stewart has broken free and comes to the Albert Hall.  So the camera breaks away from Doris Day to show his arrival.

 

Next, Jimmy Stewart finds Doris Day and they exchange information.  Hitchcock made the wise decision to play this scene without dialogue.  It is rather like a scene in a silent movie.  We see their mouths moving, we see their arms gesticulating, but we hear only the sweeping music.  Of course, we don’t need to hear the dialogue, because we know as much as the characters do.

 

So the second movie’s sequence will find much of its greater length here, as Hitchcock cuts away to Jimmy Stewart several times while he rushes upstairs in an attempt to find the assassin.

 

But in the first movie, Edna Best has no assistance.  She is all alone.  The cutting increases as she continues to look from assassin to target.  Edna Best gives such a heartfelt performance here.  Another brilliant Hitchcock touch:  we see Edna Best crying, then we see a “blurred vision” POV shot, as if we are seeing through her tears.

 

As the cymbal crash approaches, the cutting comes even faster, with many shots averaging less than a second.    In the second film, Hitchcock really relishes the buildup, with many more shots in the sequence.  Both films have the nearly-identical  iconic shot of the gun slowly coming around the curtain.

 

 

Again, the build-up is much lengthier in the remake.  Hitchcock has many shots of conductor Bernard Herrmann, even cutting to extreme close-ups of the musical notes that indicate the moment when the shot will come.

 

We even get this bizarre shot, just before the climax, taken from the point-of-view of the cymbalist!  This seems to break Hitchcock’s rule of “camera logic”, and yet as part of the montage, it adds to the emotional tension.  As a shot that is onscreen for less than a second, it registers emotionally before the mind can question it.  (If you look closely, you can see there are no hands holding the cymbals.  They seem to float in the air!)

 

When the moment for the assassination arrives, we get the scream of Edna Best and Doris Day.  The original film shows Edna stand to scream, then cuts to the hideout, where we hear the scream over the radio.   This adds to the suspense of the moment.  Was the assassin successful?  (We learn over the radio that he was not).

 

In the later film, Hitchcock gives Doris Day a close-up for her scream, which registers much more powerfully (and effectively) on the soundtrack.

 

In this case, Hitchcock stays at the Albert Hall.  We see firsthand that the assassin’s bullet causes only a flesh wound, and we see the dramatic moment of Jimmy Stewart bursting in his box, and the assassin’s fall, presumably to his death.

 

So, the final analysis:

The original film has a much shorter sequence, but still does an excellent job of building suspense.  Hitchcock employed many clever moments (the “blurred vision” POV, the cut from the radio transmitter to the actual radio in the conspirators’ hideaway) to tell the story.

When he did the remake, the changes in story structure (Jimmy Stewart’s arrival at the Albert Hall) necessitated changes in shot composition.   But more importantly, Hitchcock used many more shots, from many different angles, to increase the suspense of the moment.  While he was no amateur in the early film, it is clear that his mastery of the film medium had increased by the time of the remake, and he used that mastery to make a more powerful, and memorable sequence.

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955): “He looked exactly the same when he was alive, only he was vertical.”

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955) – Paramount Pictures – ★★★1/2

Color – 99 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Principal cast:  John Forsythe (Sam Marlowe), Shirley MacLaine (Jennifer Rogers), Edmund Gwenn (Captain Albert Wiles), Mildred Natwick (Miss Ivy Gravely), Mildred Dunnock (Mrs. Wiggs), Jerry Mathers (Arnie Rogers), Royal Dano (Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs).

Screenplay by John Michael Hayes based on the novel by Jack Trevor Story

Cinematography by Robert Burks

Edited by Alma Macrorie

Music by Bernard Herrmann

When Alfred Hitchcock first proposed The Trouble With Harry to Paramount studio execs in 1955, they were not very keen on the project.  But they were not really in a position to quibble; in his short tenure at the studio Hitchcock had delivered a monster hit in Rear Window, and his follow-up To Catch a Thief had all the makings of a hit as well.  So they indulged him in his desire to make a small budget character piece, a comedy no less.

The movie involves the inhabitants of a small New England village, and their interactions with the corpse of a man named Harry.    Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) believes he accidentally shot the man, and enlists the help of  local talented painter Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) to bury the body.   Captain Wiles later determines that he couldn’t have shot Harry, and the body is dug up.  Loca spinster Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick) admits to hitting Harry on the head with her shoe, and Harry is buried again. We later learn that Harry was the estranged husband of single-mother Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine) who has no love lost for Harry.   Over the course of the film, the body is interred and disinterred about three times, practically right under the nose of the local dimwitted Deputy Sheriff, and finally the four friends decide what to do with Harry.   This film is in no way a murder mystery.  It is very simply a character study with  darkly comedic tones.  One could almost call it a sweet film.   Interestingly, the film takes place entirely in one 24-hour period.

Innuendo:   Screenwriter John Michael Hayes was as much a fan of sexual innuendo as Hitchcock.  There had been hints of innuendo in Hayes first screenplay for Hitch, Rear Window.  He added even more to his next screenplay, To Catch A Thief, and became even more bold still in this screenplay.  When Captain Wiles confesses to his date with Miss Gravely, Sam replies “Do you realize you will be the first man to…cross her threshold?”  The Captain replies “She’s a well-preserved woman, and preserves have to be opened someday.”  The first time Sam kisses Jennifer she tell him “Careful, Sam, I have short fuse.”  This kind of banter pops up throughout the film, right up to the very last line, the admission that Sam asked the man who purchased his paintings for a double bed!

 

Performance:   For this movie to be a success, the performances had to be just right.  First of all because of the tone of the film,  a dark comedy with a very dry and subtle sense of humor.  Secondly because it is an ensemble piece with a very small cast.  There are only  nine speaking roles in the film.   And every performance is just right.  Edmund Gwenn is charming and lovable as Captain Wiles.   The great character actress Mildred Natwick was the perfect choice to play the spinsterish Miss Gravely.  Shirley MacLaine in her film debut shows the charm that she would elicit to even greater effect in later films like The Apartment.  And John Forsythe pulls off the most challenging role in the film, by making his character a bit a cynic, who isn’t above the occasional snark in another person’s direction, but always keeping him likable.  That could be said of all the characters, really.  They have a streak of New England eccentricity, but all remain endearing.

Source material:   The original novel by Jack Trevor Story is a light and breezy read, similar in tone to the movie.  Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes stayed very true to this.  There are a couple of character substitutions, namely a pair in the novel that are having an affair.  This pair, and their respective spouses were excised from the screenplay.  The character of Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs did not exist in the novel.  With the exception of these character changes, and the setting moving from England to New England, the plot is virtually identical in the novel and film.   John Michael Hayes even used entire sections of dialogue from the book, almost verbatim.   Compare this dialogue in the novel to the same scene in the movie, when Sam and Captain Wiles are talking about the corpse:

‘Suppose for instance,’ he said, ‘it was written in the Book of Heaven that this man was to die in this particular place and at this particular time.  Suppose for a moment that in some manner the actual accomplishing of his demise had been bungled; that something had gone wrong.  Perhaps it was to be a thunderbolt and there was no thunder available, say.  Well, you come along and you shoot him and Heaven’s will is done and destiny fulfilled…’

This is almost word-for-word how the scene plays out in the movie as well, just one example of many in the book.

Hitchcock touches:  This is often referred to as a “minor” or “lesser” Hitchcock movie.  But even though Hitchcock himself thought of this film as a bit of a self-indulgence, he still took it very seriously, and was always looking for ways to challenge and push himself.  This can be said of every film he ever made.  Here are some comments Hitchcock made in a couple of interviews for  Cahiers du Cinema in 1955 and 1956:

The Trouble With Harry was to be filmed in the East of the United States, at the time when the trees were in full autumnal color.  It’s the first time, to my knowledge, that a film has been made in color specifically in the season for which the action occurs.  So I brought together actors, cameramen, a whole crew and we left for Vermont.  There we waited for the leaves to deign to transition from green to yellow and from yellow to red…It’s very interesting because during the entire film the color scheme will be that of the trees:  yellow and red.

Initially Hitchcock hoped to film the entire movie on location in Vermont.  Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, so after filming about a third of the movie on location, the remaining work was done back on the Paramount lot in Hollywood.

Here is Hitchcock, again:

Although the action unfolds in the course of a single day, the film begins green and ends red.  It was essentially a counterpoint.

 

This green and red color scheme extended beyond the foliage;  you can see the dominant green in the above image, as Sam and Jennifer get to know each other.

Late in the movie, we can see the red color scheme extends even to the wallpaper in Jennifer’s house, as well as the decorative dried leaves on the mantel.  Hitchcock again:

The autumn colors are magnificent, and you may have noticed that I never show the corpse in a way that could be disagreeable.  Rather than show the face, I show the drawing that represents it.

Hitchcock:

To my way of thinking, the characters in The Trouble With Harry have reactions which are absolutely normal and logical.  It’s their peculiar behavior, free from affectation, from dissimulation, from worldly concerns, from conformity, that makes us believe they cannot be real.  In other words, instead of the logic of the absurd, I prefer the absurdity of logic.

Mr. Hitchcock, meet Mr. Herrmann:  While Alfred Hitchcock was completing To Catch A Thief, he asked that film’s composer, Lyn Murray,  if he could recommend someone to score his next movie.    Murray immediately suggested his friend Bernard Herrmann.  And so began one of the greatest partnerships between director and composer in the history of cinema.   Herrmann’s scores for Psycho and Vertigo are his most remembered for Hitchcock, and his most discussed.  But his first score for Hitchcock, on The Trouble With Harry, is absolutely charming, and perfectly suited to the material.   Late in his life, Hitchcock said this was his personal favorite of all the Bernard Herrmann scores for his films.

Recurring players:  Edmund Gwenn, a Hitchcock favorite from his time in England, had already appeared in The Skin Game, Waltzes From Vienna, and Foreign Correspondent, in which he had a juicy cameo as Rowley the assassin. And  John Forsythe would appear in Topaz fourteen years later.

Where’s Hitch?   Hitchcock’s cameo comes at around the 21-minute mark.  When Wiggy looks out the window of her general store and sees the old man looking at the painting, Hitchcock can be seen walking along the road from right to left.

What Hitch said:   When he spoke with Truffaut, Hitchcock had the following to say about this film:

I chose that novel and was given a free hand with it…I didn’t change it very much.  To my taste, the humor is quite rich.  One of the best lines is when old Edmund Gwenn is dragging the body along for the first time and a woman comes up to him on the hill and says, “What seems to be the trouble, Captain?”  To me that’s terribly funny; that’s the spirit of the whole story.

I’ve always been interested in establishing a contrast, in going against the traditional and in breaking away from cliches.  With Harry I took melodrama out of the pitch-black night and brought it out in the sunshine.  It’s as if I had set up a murder alongside a rustling brook and spilled a drop of blood in the clear water.  These contrasts establish a counterpoint; they elevate the commonplace in life to a higher level.  

Definitive edition:  The Universal blu-ray released in 2013 features excellent sound and picture.  The Vista Vision format translates very well in HD, and the movie looks lovely.  Also included are a documentary clocking in at a little over half an hour, which includes interview footage with actor John Forsythe and screenwriter John Michael Hayes; and production photographs.  The trailer included is not the original theatrical trailer, but rather a VHS release trailer from the late 1980’s.  I’m not sure why the original trailer was not included, as it was on every other Universal blu-ray release;  it can be found online in widescreen format with a little searching.

REAR WINDOW: Deconstruction of a scene – The death of a dog

Perhaps Rear Window doesn’t have an iconic scene, in the way that North by Northwest and Psycho do, but it does have several scenes that are worth taking a closer look at.  The one I chose is the scene in which the little dog is discovered dead.  This is an important scene for many reasons.  It is the most heartfelt moment in the movie;  we feel more sorrow for the dog than we ever did for Mrs. Thorwald.   It is also important for advancing the plot, for we learn that Thorwald doesn’t react to the commotion in the courtyard.  And finally, from a technical standpoint, it is shot in different manner than the rest of the film.

This sequence, from fade-in at 1:22:30 to fade-out at 1:25:03, has 40 editorial cuts.  This averages out to one cut approximately every 3.8 seconds.  Many of the clips are much shorter than that.  Hitchcock explained in an interview that the cutting gets faster as the film progresses and the tension increases.  This scene has the fastest cutting we have seen up to this point in the movie.

The scene fades in on Jeff, sipping the last of his brandy.

Lisa exits the bathroom, and walks over to the window, without any cutting.  Look at the way Jeff and Lisa are staged here;  they are seen in a long shot, with a considerable distance between them.

They then hear a scream, and Lisa opens up the center blind.  Notice the nice framing here, as you can see the woman on her balcony.

Next we cut to a mid-range shot of the woman, in distress, and we learn she is reacting to her dog, lying prone in the courtyard below.

We then get a series of shots in rapid succession, very quick cuts of many of the residents of the courtyard reacting to the drama.  These shots last an average of 2 seconds each.  We see the composer’s apartment first.

Then we get, in rapid succession, the newlyweds, Miss Torso, the sculptress, Miss Lonelyhearts, and even the couple on the high upper right balcony, who do not have a “story” in the movie but can be observed in a few scenes.  Finally Miss Lonelyhearts leans over the dog, and observes that it is dead, its neck broken.

Up to this point, all of the camera angles have been the ones we are used to.   Everything is from Jeff’s apartment, or rather Jeff’s point of view.  We see what he sees, as we have for the entire movie.  Now, for just one moment, Hitchcock will do something entirely different.  He will break with his own “camera logic” and give us a few brief shots that can’t be from Jeff’s point of view.   As the dog owner is addressing the courtyard “Which one of you did it?” we get this long shot.

This could still be Jeff’s point of view, but look how much of the courtyard we are taking in.   The dog owner continues to berate the neighbors as she cries.  “You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘neighbors'”.  But look at this camera angle, this can’t possibly be from Jeff’s apartment.

What a fantastic framing, looking up as the dog owner says “you don’t know the meaning of the word neighbors.”  We can also see both Miss Torso and the head of the sculptress.  This shot lasts less than three seconds.  Miss Lonelyhearts puts the dog in the basket.

The lady continues her very moving speech.  “He was the only thing in this whole neighborhood that liked anybody.”

We see the newlyweds, looking out of their window, very concerned.  Next we get this wonderful shot.

What a beautiful, expressive image of Miss Torso!  And whose point of view is this supposed to be?  Finally the basket has nearly reached the top.

Her heartfelt remarks are coming to a close, as she continues to accuse everyone in the courtyard.  “Did you kill him because he liked you?”  When we next see Lisa and Jeff, it is a mid-range shot, and they have drawn closer together.

From this we cut to another beautiful, expressive shot, this time of Miss Lonelyhearts.

Finally, the man takes the dog from the basket, and they go inside.

Then, just as we saw everyone react to the scream, now we see them all, in quick cuts, return to their routine.  And we are back in familiar territory visually, with every shot from Jeff’s point of view.  The party goers disperse at the composers.

We then see the newlyweds put their heads in, and close the blind.  The couple on the far upper right balcony get another shot.  Miss Torso goes inside and closes her door.  The sculptress does the same.

When we next see Lisa and Jeff, they are even closer together.

Then Jeff tells Lisa that there was only one person in the whole courtyard that didn’t come to the window to look, and we get this wonderful shot, of Thorwald’s cigarette glowing in the dark like a malevolent eye.

The scene ends on Lisa and Jeff, and they are yet again even closer, as close as they can be.

So what did Hitchcock accomplish in this mere two and a half minutes of film?  He told us that Thorwald is a dog killer, and he told us in a strikingly visual way.  He gave us a very emotional scene, in which the dog owner berates everyone for not being good enough neighbors.  Why does Hitchcock break his own rule, and give us a few very brief shots that are not from Jeff’s point of view.  Because this is the most emotional scene in the film, and those images heighten the emotion.  The viewer will most likely be too caught up in the story to notice or question “camera logic” as Hitchcock called it.  It is powerful and effective filmmaking, and does not break with the concept of montage that he uses throughout.

And finally, we see a strengthening of the bond between Jeff and Lisa.  At the beginning, there is a gulf between them.  This little tragedy, the death of a dog, and the knowledge of its killer, and what that may mean, bring them as close together as they could possibly be.

Here we see how the power of cutting, and artfully framing actors, are tools that can advance the story,  and enhance the emotional response of the audience.  This is the master at his best.

REAR WINDOW (1954) PART TWO: THEMES AND IDEAS

Beginnings:  Alfred Hitchcock frequently began his movies with a scene that introduces the viewer to both character and setting in an understated, economical way.   The opening scene of Rear Window is perhaps the best opening of any Hitchcock film.   After the curtains raise, Hitchcock does a slow counterclockwise pan of the courtyard.  He is not introducing us to characters yet, he is just giving us the lay of the land.

After completing a circle, the camera pulls in the window ending on Jimmy Stewart’s sweat covered brow.  Hitchcock then cuts for the first time, to a close up of a thermometer hovering in the mid 90’s.  Then the camera does another, even slower counterclockwise revolution of the courtyard.  This time, he begins to show us many of the characters we will encounter throughout the film.

Then the camera pulls into Jimmy Stewart’t window again, and continues, all in one unbroken shot, to show us a series of images:

 

 

 

 

Before we have had a word of dialogue, we know the precise layout of the courtyard and apartment.  We know our leading man’s name (it is written on the cast), we know his profession, we know he has a broken leg and we know how he got it, courtesy of the smashed camera and photo of a race car with a loose tire flying off.   All of this is done in with only two editorial cuts, and no dialogue.

Montage:  Much of what makes this movie work is Alfred Hitchcock’s use of montage.  Throughout the film we see Jimmy Stewart look at something, then we see what he is looking at, then we see Jimmy Stewart’s reaction shot.  As in the series of images below:

Here is what Alfred Hitchcock had to say on the subject in a 1973 interview in Antaeus:

There are too many films with what I call photographs of people talking…You see, most people get confused; they think that galloping horses are cinema.  They are not.  They are photographs of galloping horses.  Pure cinema is montage, the joining together of pieces of film and creating an idea.  It’s like putting words together in a sentence.  From that comes the audience’s emotion.  Rear Window, possibly one of the most cinematic pictures that anyone’s ever attempted, depended upon cutting to what a man is seeing, then cutting back to his reaction.  What you’re doing is using his face to create a thought process.

In conversation with Truffaut, Hitchcock said:

Pudovkin dealt with this, as you know.  In one of his books on the art of montage, he describes an experiment by his teacher, Kuleshov.  You see a close-up of the Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine.  This is immediately followed by a shot of a dead baby.  Back to Mosjoukine again and you read compassion on his face.  Then you take away the dead baby and you show a plate of soup, and now, when you go back to Mosjoukine, he looks hungry.  Yet, in both cases, they used the same shot of the actor;  his face was exactly the same.  In the same way, let’s take a close-up of Stewart looking out of the window at a little dog that’s being lowered in a basket.  Back to Stewart, who has a kindly smile.  But if in place of the little dog you show a half-naked girl exercising in front of her open window, and you go back to a smiling Stewart again, this time he’s seen as a dirty old man!

Hitchcock used montage in many of his films, but never so completely as he does here.

Voyeurism:  Rear Window deals with this subject in a couple of different ways.  It is a direct commentary on people who spy on their neighbors.   As Stella tells Jeff:  “We’ve become a race of peeping Toms.  What people oughta do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.”

Jeff himself speculates:  “I wonder if it’s ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long focus lens.”

And later, Detective Doyle will tell both Jeff and Lisa:  “That’s a secret, private world you’re looking into out there,” and later:  “People do a lot of things in private they couldn’t possibly explain in public.”

Jeff and Lisa are actually thrilled with watching the goings-on in the Thorwald apartment, and even disappointed when they believe for a moment that there is a logical explanation for all they have seen, and Thorwald is indeed innocent.    Of course, the audience is complicit in Jeff’s peeping.  Isn’t the act of movie-going very much like spying on a private world?  It is no accident that Hitchcock shot this movie in a 1.66:1 camera aspect ratio, for this mirrors almost exactly the size of the longer windows in the movie.

Here are the curtains going up on the opening shot, just as the curtains rise at a performance.  Later on, Lisa will close the curtains, saying “show’s over.”  It is almost like intermission.   Of course, they won’t stay closed for long.  They then close again at the end, over the Paramount logo.   When Jeff is looking through all of those windows, it is like he is watching his own series of private movies.  One of the most powerful and beautiful shots in the film comes late, when Jeff and Stella are distracted by Miss Lonelyhearts in the lower window, and stop watching Lisa inside Thorwald’s apartment.  Then, suddenly, both women are drawn to the window by the composer’s music.

It’s rather like watching both films of a double feature at the same time, and not knowing which feature to focus on.  When the police come to Thorwald’s apartment, and  Thorwald sees Lisa signaling with the ring, he looks directly at the camera, and directly at us.  This is the most unsettling moment in the movie, for now the watcher has become the watched.

At the film’s climax, when Lars Thorwald enters Jeff’s apartment, and asks “What do you want from me?”  he is addressing the audience too.  And as is typical of Hitchcock, he subverts expectations here.  We actually feel a little sorry for this sad, quiet man.  And maybe even a little guilty for our spying.  Of course this doesn’t last long.  After all, a bad guy must be a bad guy in the end.

We will let Hitchcock have the final word on voyeurism:

I’ll bet you that nine out of ten people, if they see a woman across the courtyard undressing for bed, or even a man puttering around in his room, will stay and look; no one turns away and says, ‘It’s none of my business’.

If you want to be really mean towards the character in this film you could call him a Peeping Tom.  I don’t necessarily think it’s a statement of morality because it’s a statement of fact.  You don’t hide from it, there’s no point in my leaving it out.  When Grace Kelly says that they are a couple of fiendish ghouls because they’re disappointed that a murder hasn’t been committed she’s speaking the truth.

A man and a woman:  The real underlying theme in this movie is that of relationships between men and women, and the seemingly irreconcilable differences that separate the sexes.   It is only through compromise that relationships will work, Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes seem to be telling us.  The subject of relationships, and the dialogue to be found in such scenes, is Hayes greatest strength.  Not only is this his greatest screenplay;  it is one of the strongest screenplays to ever come out of Hollywood.

We first meet Lisa Fremont with arguably the greatest kiss ever captured on screen.  It is idealized and romanticized to the point of seeming like a fantasy, with a slowed down, close up image.  We have to ask ourselves, is this how it really happened, or how Jeff imagined it to be?

Of course, this idealized love doesn’t last long.  Very soon, they are bickering.  Lisa wants a committed relationship, but Jeff won’t agree to it.  He thinks they are from different worlds, and can’t compromise enough to make it work.  Of course this doesn’t keep him from wanting to keep things “status quo.”

As Jeff looks out in the courtyard, virtually every window tells the tale of a relationship, and will therefore remind him of his own.  First and foremost, there is Lars Thorwald and his wife.  She is supposed to be an invalid, but doesn’t look to be in very bad shape.  She is very critical of Lars Thorwald.  Jeff comments while talking to his editor on the phone about not wanting to become a husband going home to his nagging wife.  Note also, the nightgown that Mrs. Thorwald is wearing is almost exactly like the one that Lisa will wear later in the film.

There is also the newlywed couple, whose closed curtain imply the marriage is being consummated quite thoroughly.  And yet by the end, they are bickering too.  Miss Lonelyhearts is desperate for love, with a desperation that elevates to the brink of disaster.  Miss Torso is pushing men away throughout the film, “juggling wolves” as Lisa calls it.   You could say that the composer is married to his work.  Stella talks about her strong marriage, calling herself and her husband “a couple of maladjusted misfits” and saying the only way you could get her wedding ring off would be to chop off her finger.   And Detective Doyle is a family man, who is not averse to admiring Miss Torso himself.

When Lisa begins to take chances, when she leaves the note under Thorwald’s door, that is the moment that Jeff begins to really fall in love with her.  To make sure we notice this, Hitchcock gives us a close up of Stewart’s face.

When Lisa is in Thorwald’s apartment, signaling to Jeff that she has the ring, the double meaning of the image can’t be mistaken.  She is pointing repeatedly to a wedding ring on her finger.  She has found Mrs. Thorwald’s ring, but it is also symbolic of her desire to wed Jeff.

The movie does have a mostly happy ending (except of course for poor Mrs. Thorwald), but there is that little twist at the end.  Miss Torso is married to a scrawny soldier who is more interested in the contents of her icebox than her bikini.  Miss Lonelyhearts and the composer are brought together by music, at least in a friendly way (One can’t really imagine them becoming a couple).  The couple with the dog have got a new puppy, the newlyweds are bickering.  And Lisa is reading a book about climbing the Himalayas, at least until she is sure Jeff is asleep.  Then she grabs her Harper’s Bizarre.  Compromise is the name of the game.

Sound and vision:  Nothing seen or heard in a Hitchcock movie is ever there by accident, and never more so than here, where Hitchcock had such close control of every aspect of production.    Hitchcock had an all-star team on this movie, and they all worked together seamlessly.  From Robert Burks cinematography, to Edith Head’s costumes, to Hal Pereira’s art direction and Franz Waxman’s music, every piece of the puzzle fit together perfectly.

The above image is a good example of all of these technical elements working together.

Hitchcock also found many interesting ways to film the characters in Stewart’s apartment, without anything ever feeling staged.

Lisa wears a pale green here, mirroring the green that Miss Lonelyhearts is wearing as she prepares to go out on the town.  Here is what Hitchcock had to say about Miss Lonelyhearts color palette:

Miss Lonelyhearts always dressed in emerald green. To make sure that that came off, there was no other green in the picture, because we had to follow her very closely when she went across the street into the cafe.  So I reserved that color for her.

There final scene with Detective Doyle, Jeff and Lisa plays out with long takes and very little cutting.  Hitchcock has the actors keep moving around, and regrouping, so the shot composition is always engaging.

One of the most overlooked aspects of this film is also one of its most brilliant, and that is the movie’s musical score.    The score exists of only existing musical elements.  It other words, all of the sounds we hear come to us from the open window of Jeff’s apartment, the songs are either on someone’s radio, or emanating from the composer’s apartment.  And the songs all perfectly suit what is taking place on the screen.  While Jeff is watching the newlyweds enter their apartment, we can hear an instrumental version of “That’s Amore”.   When Miss Lonelyhearts is having dinner with her imaginary beau, the rather cruelly ironic song playing is Bing Crosby’s “To See You Is To Love You”.   Later, when Miss Lonelyhearts crosses the street to the bar, we hear “Waiting For My True Love To Appear.”    The greatest musical element, however, is the song “Lisa”, which we actually hear being composed as the movie progresses.  In other words, the composer, in his apartment, is writing the movie’s score as we watch the movie.  When Lisa first comes in Jeff’s apartment, we hear someone practicing scales.  Obviously this is the warm up, before the real work begins.  Then, over the course of a few scenes, we see the composer developing his song, culminating in the scene where both Lisa and Miss Lonelyhearts are captivated by the song.  And finally, in the movie’s very last scene, we hear a recorded version of the song, which is named after Grace Kelly’s character.

Hitchcock thought that this idea of developing a song as the movie progressed was a failure.  I disagree.  I just think that the story is so strong, it gets lost in the background.  I would strongly encourage anyone who is a big fan of this movie to watch it again, focusing on the sound and music.  You just might be amazed.

REAR WINDOW (1954): “What do you want from me?”

REAR WINDOW (1954) – Paramount Pictures – ★★★★★

Color – 112 minutes – 1.66:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Principal cast:  James Stewart (L.B. Jefferies), Grace Kelly (Lisa Fremont), Thelma Ritter (Stella), Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald), Wendell Corey (Detective Tom Doyle), Judith Evelyn (Miss Lonelyhearts), Ross Bagdasarian (songwriter), Georgine Darcy (Miss Torso).

Screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based on the story “It Had To Be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich

Cinematography by Robert Burks

Edited by George Tomasini

Music by Franz Waxman

Costumes by Edith Head

(My Rear Window analysis will be broken into three parts.  This is part one.)

Firing on all cylinders:   Alfred Hitchcock began his tenure at Paramount Pictures in 1954 flying high.  His last movie for Warner Bros., Dial M For Murder, was a box office hit.  And Paramount was granting him more freedom than he’d ever had.  He was bursting with energy and creativity.  And he chose Rear Window as his first Paramount film.

The movie stars Jimmy Stewart as L.B. Jefferies, a professional photographer who broke his leg in pursuit of a photo, and is now stuck in his apartment, in a wheelchair.  With little else to do, he begins to watch his neighbors, looking in their apartment windows from his own.  He is just passing the time, until the invalid wife of the traveling salesman across the courtyard disappears.  And the salesman (Raymond Burr) is acting strange.  Did he kill his wife?  That is the question that “Jeff” seeks to answer, with the help of a trio of people.   His girlfriend is fashion model Lisa Fremont, played by the exquisitely beautiful Grace Kelly.  The insurance company nurse that looks in on him is Stella (Thelma Ritter), who dispenses homespun wisdom along with her care.  And finally there is Detective Doyle (Wendell Corey), and old war buddy who investigates the salesman at Jeff’s request.   Jeff and Lisa spend the bulk of the movie trying to untangle a murder plot, as well as untangling their own relationship issues.

(For a detailed look at the movies themes, please see part two of this analysis.)

Hitchcock as God:  Alfred Hitchcock notoriously disliked filming on location.  Despite the fact that he did some wonderful location shooting in his career, he much preferred the confines of the studio, where he was more in control of the environment.  Rear Window was a dream come true for Hitch, because the entire movie was shot on one massive set built on Stage 18 at Paramount Studios.  The set featured the back side of four apartment buildings, facing onto an interior courtyard.   The set was so tall that the “ground floor” was actually thirty feet below the studio’s original floor.  It was one of the largest and most impressive sets ever constructed.

With the pull of a lever, Hitchcock could change the lighting from dawn, to midday, to dusk, to night.  He could even make it rain on cue.  He also controlled the individual lights and sounds emanating from every apartment, as well as controlling every action sound uttered by everyone on screen.

Here is what Hitchcock had to say about the fictional world he created:

It shows every kind of human behavior-a real index of individual behavior.  The picture would have been very dull if we hadn’t done that.  What you see across the way is a group of little stories that…mirror a small universe.

One small portion of Hitchcock’s impressive Rear Window set.

Performance:   There are only five characters that ever appear in Jeff’s apartment; every other performance is seen from a distance.  Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly are nothing short of iconic in their leading roles.  They inhabit the characters perfectly, and play off of each other equally well.   Thelma Ritter is one of the greatest character actors to ever appear on screen, and gives one of her best performances here.   (Interestingly, Ritter was nominated for Best Supporting Actress six times, never winning.  This was not one of her Oscar-nominated roles).  And Wendell Corey gives arguably the role of his all-too-short life as Detective Doyle.  Raymond Burr is the typical sympathetic villain.  The rest of the characters have to act “from a distance”, as it were.  Imagine having several moments of screen time in a movie, but only being filmed in long shots.  Every single character works perfectly as a piece of the ensemble, to create the harmonized feel of the picture as a whole.

Source material:  John Michael Hayes adapted his screenplay from a 40-page short story by Cornell Woolrich titled “It Had To Be Murder”.  Woolrich was a talented noir crime writer who wrote dozens of engaging novels and short stories, many with a dark, ironic twist ending.  Hitchcock enjoyed Woolrich’s writing.  Several of his short stories would later be adapted for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show, and Hitchcock himself would direct a TV adaptation of another Woolrich short story for the NBC anthology show Suspicion.

The most significant plot element in Rear Window is lifted directly from the story: a man with a cast on his leg, trapped in his apartment, begins watching his neighbors to pass the time, and suspects one of them may be guilty of murdering his wife.  Everything else in the film comes directly from the minds of John Michael Hayes and Alfred Hitchcock.  There is no love interest in the story;  no insurance nurse tending to his needs.  Instead he has a guy named Sam who looks after him.  There is no Ms. Lonelyhearts, no Miss Torso, no Composer, none of the other side stories that help to make the film so rich and complete.

The first person narrator of the story is Hal Jeffries, rather than LB, but still has the nickname Jeff.  And the oh-so perfect name Lars Thorwald comes directly from the story.  Jeff also has a detective friend in the story, named Boyne.  He is the equivalent of Doyle in the film.

The story is quite gripping.  This description of the moment when the narrator first begins to suspect his neighbor of murder is quite good, and was slightly adapted for use in the movie.  Jeff says this about Lars Thorwald:

He was leaning out, maybe an inch past the window frame, carefully scanning the back faces of all the houses abutting on the hollow square that lay before him.  You can tell, even at a distance, when a person is looking fixedly.  There’s something about the way the head is held.  And yet his scrutiny wasn’t held fixedly to any one point, it was a slow, sweeping one, moving along the houses…I wondered vaguely why he had given that peculiar, comprehensive, semicircular stare at all the rear windows around him.  There wasn’t anyone at any of them, at such an hour.  It wasn’t important, of course.  It was just a little oddity, it failed to blend in with his being worried or disturbed about his wife.  When you’re worried or disturbed, that’s an internal preoccupation, you stare vacantly at nothing at all.  When you stare around you in a great sweeping arc at windows, that betrays external preoccupation, outward interest.  One doesn’t quite jibe with the other.

Near the story’s climax, just as in the movie, Jeff calls Thorwald and says he knows about his wife.  And just as in the movie, Thorwald discovers who has contacted him, and goes to Jeff’s apartment to confront him.  In the story Thorwald is much more determined and aggressive.  Jeff takes a large ceramic bust, “of Rousseau or Montesquieu, I’d never been able to decide which”, and places it in front of him on his chair.  Thorwald shoots at the shadowed outline of the bust, and the bust stops the bullet.  Then the police arrive, chasing Thorwald, and he falls to his death.

Recurring players:  Jimmy Stewart had already appeared in Rope, and would later appear in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 remake) and Vertigo.  Grace Kelly had just starred in Dial M For Murder, and would also star in Hitchcock’s next film To Catch A Thief.   Sara Berner (the woman with the dog) would have a small role in North by Northwest, at least her voice would (she is the telephone operator that Cary Grant speaks to at the Plaza Hotel).  Jesslyn Fax (sculptress) and Len Hendry (policeman) had small uncredited roles in North by Northwest.  Anthony Warde (detective that mentions the hatbox at the end) will have a role as another policeman in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).  Fred Graham (one of police that goes to Thorwald’s apartment) would later play the policeman that falls off the roof at the beginning of Vertigo.   Bess Flowers (songwriter’s party guest with poodle), known as the Queen of Hollywood extras, appeared as an extra in seven other Hitchcock films.  Voice talent Art Gilmore, whose voice can be heard on the radio, had performed the same service on Saboteur.  

Academy Awards:  Rear Window received four Oscar nominations:  Alfred Hitchcock for Best Direction, Robert Burks for Best Color Cinematography, John Michael Hayes for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Loren L. Ryder for Best Sound Recording.   Unfortunately, they all went home empty-handed on Oscar night.

Box office success:  Rear Window was the highest-grossing film of 1954, eventually earning $36 million at the box office, and making it Hitchcock’s highest-earning film up to that point.

Burr as Selznick?   This is what Raymond Burr looked like in 1954.

If you’ve ever wondered why Hitchcock dramatically altered Burr’s appearance for the role of Lars Thorwald, he had a very specific reason.  Hitchcock had Burr made up to resemble producer David O. Selznick.   Selznick of course had famously signed Hitchcock to a seven-year contract in 1940, luring Hitchcock to the United States.  While their partnership began with much promise, it ended rather poorly.  Hitchcock had certainly had his fill of Selznick’s micro-managing.  So several years later, Hitchcock decided to take a subtle jab at his former producer, by making the wife and dog killing Lars Thorwald resemble him.  Hitchcock never directly addressed this in any interview, and the average moviegoer would have been completely unaware.  But most Hollywood insiders would have been in on the joke.

Burr and Selznick.

Where’s Hitch?  This film features my personal favorite of all Hitchcock’s cameos.  At about the 26:15 mark, Hitchcock can be seen winding the clock on the mantel in the composer’s apartment.  As he is winding it, he turns and looks over his shoulder, speaking to the composer as he sits at the piano.

Hitchcock, winding a clock and speaking to Ross Bagdasarian in his “Rear Window” cameo.

What Hitch said:  Hitchcock had much to say about this film over the years.   When talking with Truffaut, Hitch said:

It was the possibility of doing a purely cinematic film.  You have an immobilized man looking out.  That’s one part of the film.  The second part shows what he sees  and the third part shows how he reacts.  This is actually the purest expression of a cinematic idea…I was feeling very creative at the time, the batteries were well charged.

In a piece written for Take One in 1968, Hitchcock had a lot of interesting comments to make, including more on the idea of montage:

It’s composed largely of Mr. Stewart as a character in one position in one room looking out onto his courtyard.  So what he sees is a mental process blown up in his mind from the purely visual.  It represents for me the purest form of cinema which is called montage;  that is, pieces of film put together to make up an idea.

Hitch also says:

Rear Window has a happy ending, but I don’t think you have to drag in a happy ending.  I think that an audience will accept any ending as long as it’s reasonable.

Definitive edition:  Universal’s 2014 blu-ray release is fantastic.  First of all, the picture quality is amazing.   Watching this blu-ray on a large hi-def TV reveals many never before noticed details.  The soundtrack is fantastic too.  Included with the movie are several extra features.   First and foremost is a wonderful commentary track by John Fawell, author of a book about Rear Window.  This is hands down one of the most informative commentary tracks I’ve ever heard, without ever becoming too dry or scholarly.  Also included is a 55-minute making of documentary, a 13-minute interview with screenwriter John Michael Hayes,  two other mini-documentaries, a half hour vintage interview with Hitchcock conducted in the early 70’s, and audio excerpts from the Truffaut interview sessions.  In addition, the blu-ray has both the original and re-release theatrical trailers.