The 1954 film”Rear Window,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock, beautifully brings to life Cornell Woolrich’s short story “It Had to Be Murder.” The combination of the vivid imagery used in the short story with Hitchcock’s unique cinematic style makes this one of the most visually engaging films to come out of Hollywood. The adaptation of a first-person short story with nearly script-like dialogue into a symbolically and artistically rich feature length film was done nearly flawlessly, while still allowing for viewer interpretation. The original story’s succinctness also allowed for flexibility in Hitchcock’s content choices. This flexibility proved to be quite important, in that he was then able to create and include a bevy of new perspectives and artistic choices that made “Rear Window” the first and greatest of its kind.
The adaptation of a first-person short story with nearly script-like dialogue into a symbolically and artistically rich feature length film was done nearly flawlessly, while still allowing for viewer interpretation. The two have separate endings, and many differences throughout, but they perfectly compliment each other when looked at side-by-side. The original story’s succinctness also allowed for flexibility in Hitchcock’s content choices. This flexibility proved to be quite important, in that he was then able to create and include a bevy of new perspectives and artistic choices that made “Rear Window” the first and greatest of its kind.
The story is told from the vantage point of a photojournalist with a broken leg who is confined to a wheelchair in an apartment with a view of many other surrounding apartment windows. The film is visually creative in not only presenting the many residents’ daily lives but also in how the lives are seen. The latter is achieved through a variety of angles, lenses, lighting, compositional choices, and human perspectives seen from a single apartment. The viewer cannot see beyond what the main character and his various visitors may see. This choice on Hitchcock’s part is what defines the film’s progression, and allows him to make stylistic choices that would otherwise be difficult to achieve in a film with a more open set.
One of the most recurring creative choices Hitchcock implemented was framing. Viewers, as well as the main character, Jeff, saw each fragment of a resident’s life through the frame of an apartment window. The apartment windows varied in size, shape, and angle they were viewed at, but all served the same purpose of capturing a viewer’s focus.
The use of framing often served to make sure viewers maintain focus on an individual storyline, while occasionally functioned to intentionally distract viewers from an important event. In the above screenshot, the framing divides the man who is later suspected of murdering his wife, from his wife. This visual division creates distance between the characters, influencing viewers to more readily accept Jeff’s later belief that this character truly did murder his wife, despite never seeing the crime occur. Framing also served another very important purpose. Hitchcock seemed to intentionally frame the apartments and individual story lines in a manner similar to how a film screen is framed for a viewer. Through this and many other stylistic techniques, Hitchcock creates an intriguing feature-length metaphor relating to how viewers observe film and life.
Hitchcock’s choice of camera panning also had a similar artistic effect to the former aspect of framing in that it only enables viewers to see what the camera enables them to see. Often the cameras pan in basic directions such as up, down, left, right, from apartment window to apartment window without spending much time on certain residents, and coming to a pause on other windows. This choice also further connects viewers to Jeff’s vantage point, since his isolation to a wheelchair limits his mobility in angles and direction of panning. The camera often pans left and right at similar levels in connection with the rolling motions of Jeff’s wheelchair. The panning changes when the perspective becomes that of Jeff’s many visitors, such as his nurse, his girlfriend, and the detective. When these characters are viewing through binoculars, the panning becomes slightly more natural and less isolated in motion.
The angle and choice of shot add to the connection between the viewer and the main character even further. Many scenes from the film are close-up and mid-distance shots of the main character, focused on him and what he is looking at during any given point in a scene. This reinforces viewers’ reliance on exactly what Hitchcock wants to be seen, projected through what Jeff and his visitors are able to see. Occasionally, this limiting factor adds to the suspense of the film, since viewers feel as helpless as a man isolated to a wheelchair during dramatic parts of the film. For example, when Jeff’s girlfriend Lisa is searching the suspected murderer’s apartment, viewers feel as helpless as Jeff when they see the man coming back to his apartment, and knowing Lisa cannot see that.
Lighting has a significant influence on the plot and cinematic creativity of the film. Lighting was used to begin and end each day, with sunsets and change in the scenes hue, as well as people turning on and off lights in each apartment. The scene with rain was darker and more dramatic, suggesting an important part of the film was occurring, and helping to lead viewers to dark conclusions. Lighting also served as Jeff’s only defense when he was finally discovered by the murderer. When the murderer arrived outside of Jeff’s apartment, both viewers and Jeff could see his dark shadow in contrast to the light from just a slight crack. Jeff was also only able to hide due to the presence of shadows in his apartment during this dramatic encounter. Finally, his only way to slow his attacker was to literally use the light from his camera flash bulbs to blind him. Hitchcock integrated this flash into the filter of the movie during these scenes, making them blurry and orange, as if viewers were in the room when the flash bulb went off.
Hitchcock used numerous artistic and psychological choices to develop a compelling story that intrigues viewers during every moment. This is an amazing feat due to the unique isolation that is incorporated into every aspect of the film.