Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well Made Film by John Fawell

HITCHCOCK’S REAR WINDOW:  THE WELL-MADE FILM by John Fawell

2001 – Southern Illinois University Press – 179 pages

I first became aware of John Fawell when I purchased Rear Window on blu ray.  It is Fawell’s erudite and entertaining commentary track that appears as one of the bonus features.  This book explores many of the same themes addressed in the commentary track, but in greater depth.

What sets this book apart from most other Hitchcock books focused on one film is that this is not a nuts and bolts “making of” book.  If you are interested in learning which scenes were shot on which day, this is not the book for you.  Fawell focuses exclusively on themes and ideas.  He references many works that preceeded him, while putting forth many of his own ideas as well.

While Fawell is somewhat scholarly in tone, he writes in a way that is still accessible to the fan.  As he says in his introduction:  “I wrote the book even more for the nonacademic, the person who is looking for a careful explanation of why Hitchcock is taken so seriously.”

It is clear that Fawell is not just a professor, but a fan as well.   He is someone who has watched this movie, and thought about it, many times.  The chapters are broken down into different thematic elements.  Perhaps the most enlightening for me are the sections on the soundtrack.   The visuals of Rear Window are so powerful and entertaining that one can easily miss some of the background music and sounds.  I think Rear Window has one of the greatest diegetic soundtracks ever constructed, and Fawell gives this subject the time and attention it deserves.

Fawell also examines each of the characters who Jeff watches from his window, looking at what they represent thematically.  He has a chapter focused on loneliness, another on Jeff’s emasculation, and another on the subject of Jeff as Hitchcock.  He also focuses on the brief instances when Hitchcock takes us outside Jeff’s point of view.  Again, Fawell provides the best insight yet recorded on this aspect of the film.

This book is a treasure trove of ideas for anyone who is a fan of this movie, and wants to dig a little deeper into the possible meaning and subtext.  I would recommend giving Fawell’s excellent commentary track on the blu ray a try first.   It is very engaging and full of ideas.  If you enjoy that, and want a deeper dive into some of those themes, then the book is highly recommended.

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, again from Jeff’s point of view.

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 the couple 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 images are very quick cuts, so the viewer will most likely be too caught up in the story to notice or question Hitchcock’s camera logic.  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 closer together.

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 rise, 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 Windowpossibly 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, that 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 on 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  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 in her early scenes is almost exactly like the one that Lisa will wear later in the film.

There is also the newlywed couple, whose closed curtains imply the marriage is being consummated quite thoroughly.  And yet by the end, they are bickering too.  Miss Lonelyhearts is hungry for love, with a desperation that escalates 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 attached 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.

The 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 is diegetic;  it is comprised of only music that exists in the narrative world of the film.  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, the music 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 Murderwas 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), an 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 the action and 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 Hitchcock 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 Ropeand would later appear in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 remake) and Vertigo.  Grace Kelly had just starred in Dial M For Murderand 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.

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Stewart.

James Stewart, the great American film actor, was born on May 20, 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania.  Stewart is one of the most celebrated American actors ever to appear on screen.  He was and is a truly American actor, an Everyman, someone with whom the audience could identify, and sympathize.

Stewart was incredibly prolific; in a career that spanned over half a century, he appeared in hundreds of films, television shows, radio programs, stage plays, and fought for his country in World War II.

James Stewart was nominated for five Academy Awards in his long career, surprisingly winning only once;  he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1941, for The Philadelphia Story.   Stewart made four films with director Alfred Hitchcock during the course of his career, but was not nominated for an Oscar for any of these collaborations.    This is equally surprising, especially considering the power of his performance in 1958’s Vertigo,  certainly one of the most memorable roles of his film career.

Director Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart worked on three films together early in Stewart’s career.  This collaboration produced two unforgettable movies, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and It’s A Wonderful Life.

James Stewart is one of the most decorated celebrities to serve his country in combat.  His rise from private to colonel in only 4 years is quite astonishing.  During the Second World War, he ultimately served as the command pilot of a B-24 bomber division, which flew many missions deep into Nazi territory.  He received the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, for actions he performed in combat.

Stewart was already a major star before the war, but it was after returning home that his career really exploded.   Consider for a moment Stewart’s film output during the fifties.  In this one decade, from 1950-59, Stewart starred in 22 films!!  His output just in this one decade includes Harvey, three films with Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo), The Spirit of St. Louis with Billy Wilder, The Greatest Show on Earth with Cecil B. DeMille, Anatomy of a Murder with Otto Preminger, and 8 movies with director Anthony Mann!  All in the same decade!  Five of the Mann/Stewart collaborations were westerns, including Winchester ’73 and The Naked Spur.  These westerns, which were shot on location whenever possible, had a gritty realism, and featured Stewart playing characters who were hard around the edges and morally ambiguous, a far cry from the characters he had played for Frank Capra early in his career.  These films are credited with revitalizing the western genre.

Stewart continued to work well into the 1980’s.  He died on July 2, 1997.

Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart made four movies together.

Rope (1948) –  This is probably the weakest of the 4 Hitch/Stewart collaborations.  It is worth watching more for the technical proficiency employed than the plot.  Stewart was so unhappy with the technical delays that occured on set, he is rumored to have said he would never work  with Hitchcock again!  Thank goodness he didn’t keep his word.

Rear Window (1954) – Stewart was so enchanted by the screenplay, he agreed to take a percentage of the gross rather than an upfront fee, which turned out to be a very lucrative decision.  The film was a hit in its day, and continues to entertain a new generation.  It is routinely considered one of the greatest films of all time.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – The most underrated of their four collaborations, this is actually a very entertaining and suspenseful movie.  It also did quite well at the box office.

Vertigo (1958) – A dense, psychologically complex work, which features brilliant performances by James Stewart and Kim Novak.  This film bombed upon its release, and received little critical acclaim.  It was decades after its release when the true power of this film began to be appreciated.  An absolute, undisputed classic.

So on the 104th anniversary of Jimmy Stewart’s birth, I’d like to say thank you for all the incredible, memorable performances Jimmy.  And for your service to your country.

Here is a clip of Jimmy Stewart honoring Alfred Hitchcock, when he recieved his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1979.

In the late 1980’s, five of Hitchcock’s movies (including all four Jimmy Stewart collaborations) were re-released to theaters.  Here is the re-release trailer, narrated by Stewart. (Universal Pictures owns the rights to all of these film titles.)