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American Cinematographer (1990) - Hitchcock's Techniques Tell Rear Window Story




Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 suspense thriller Rear Window is one of the late director's most masterful and enduring motion pictures. Indeed, its endurance is well illustrated by the fact that when the film was re‑released theatrically in London in 1983, after being unseen for more than a decade, many British film critics considered it the best film of the year. The film is a visual and aural treat featuring a first‑rate cast, and the making of the film presented Hitchcock and his talented production crew with numerous unique challenges.

In the summer of 1953, Lew Wasserman, then Hitchcock's agent at MCA, arranged a deal with Paramount Pictures for the director to make a total of nine films (as it turned out, he only made six). The unusual contract called for the rights of five of these films to revert to Hitchcock eight years after their initial release. Rear Window was the first film that the director made under the Paramount contract and was one of those to which he would eventually own the rights, the others being The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock's 1956 remake of his 1934 British production), Vertigo, and Psycho.

Hitchcock had been planning Rear Window during the filming of Dial 'M' For Murder at Warner Brothers. He had acquired the film rights to a 1942 short story by the mystery author Cornell Woolrich under the pseudonym William Irish. The story concerned an invalid confined to his room who spies on his neighbors and witnesses a murder. Eventually, the killer attempts to shoot the invalid from across the yard. However, the invalid manages to protect himself at the last minute by grabbing a bust of Beethoven and using it as a shield.

At the suggestion of his agents at MCA, Hitchcock hired a scriptwriter in his mid‑30's named John Michael Hayes to write the treatment and script. Hayes, who received a fee of $15,000 for his services on the film, had a background of comedy and suspense writing for radio, and he turned out to be a perfect complement to Hitchcock with his ability to provide strong, credible characterization and witty, sophisticated dialogue. Hayes would subsequently be scriptwriter for Hitchcock's next three pictures‑To Catch A Thief, The Trouble With Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Hayes' first task, which he apparently undertook with great skill, was to draft the treatment for Rear Window. It was on the basis of this treatment alone t...

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The author of this article is a scientist working in the pharmaceutical field in Florida. A long‑time film researcher, he formerly headed the Playhouse Film Society in his native Northern England.