PRODUCED / DIRECTED by Alfred Hitchcock
SCREENPLAY by John Michael Hayes
BASED ON A STORY by Cornell Woolrich
ORIGINAL MUSIC by Franz Waxman
CINEMATOGRAPHY by Robert Burks
ART DIRECTION by J McMillan Johnson & Hal Pereira
This was another tough call. I’ve seen almost all of Hitchcock’s films, including some very early silents. There’s a lot of great ones: the original The Man Who Knew Too Much, Foreign Correspondent, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest. It came down to this one or Vertigo. Both star Jimmy Stewart as a troubled man. Both are profoundly disturbing, not so much from the suspense elements as for the psychology: obsession in Vertigo, voyeurism in Rear Window. In the end I went with this one because, while there are many good films about obsession, there is nothing quite like the claustrophobia in Rear Window. It is in a class by itself.
I recall seeing a trailer (we called them “previews” back then) for Rear Window when it was just coming out. I believe it featured Hitchcock himself, and he was showing us around his huge indoor set, which was really the star of the show. But I didn’t see the film itself at the time. Then it vanished into the vaults, along with three other films, and when video came along some sort of contractual dispute kept those films off the market. Then they went into limited theatrical release to coincide with the video appearances. I saw them all on video (rediscovering The Trouble With Harry, which I did see when it was new), and then Lee and I and her daughter Annie went to see Rear Window on the big screen in a little revival theater called the Roseway out on Sandy Boulevard in Portland. I was knocked out.
I’m not a victim of acrophobia, so even the famous dolly/zoom shots in Vertigo didn’t affect me with any real feeling for Scotty Ferguson’s affliction. I’m not very claustrophobic, either, but Jeff Jeffries dilemma being cooped up in that apartment that he couldn’t leave affected me a lot. The camera never leaves the apartment. (Okay, there’s one brief shot from outside at the very end, when Jeffries himself is dangling from his windowsill.) After a while I can feel the walls closing in.
Roger Ebert pointed out that there is something very attractive about voyeurism for most people. I’m one of them. I have never window-peeped, but it is fascinating to do it looking over someone’s shoulder, see the lives unfolding all around while yours is on hold. Hitchcock draws us in so gradually, at first we think Jeffries is just paranoid. Then the suspense builds and builds, until it’s hair-raising.