Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Hitchcock Classic: Rear Window

A short time ago, I watched one of Hitchcock's classic films, Rear Window, starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, and discovered that it was based on a short story written by Cornell Woolrich. I checked the Wikipedia entry for him and found that Rear Window was not the only film that had been made of a story of his but was only one of 26 films that had been based on his short stories and novels. Those who have read some of my previous postings here may have noticed that I enjoy reading stories and watching the films that have been based on those stories and then comparing the two. So, I found Woolrich's short story in The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, edited by Tony Hillerman and published by Houghton Mifflin. One of these days, I will read all of the stories in the book.

Hitchcock followed the main plot line fairly closely, but what he added to the film turned Woolrich's short story into a collection that contained one longer story, that of the murderous husband, and a number of vignettes, all set in that one apartment building. Some of the brief glimpses we get of the other residents actually are developed to the point to where there is a possible resolution--for example, the lonely woman and the composer do meet at the end.

The most significant differences between the short story and the film are Hitchcock's expansion of the brief references to the other residents and the introduction of the romance between Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. This is something Hitchcock created for the film as there is no reference to any romance in the story. Their relationship provides another subplot in the film, for the Stewart and Kelly characters differ about the course of their relationship, and this raises a question as to the future of their relationship.

Woolrich mentions some of the other residents in the building and provides brief snapshots of them in the beginning of the story. However, they disappear after this and are never referred to again. Hitchcock, on the other hand, shows them to us again and again, even to the point of showing us some of the conflicts and problems that they encounter in their own lives.

Does this harm the story? It does widen the focus, which in the short story is solely on the murderous husband, to include the lives of others which the Stewart character observes as he watches from his rear window. It may reduce the intensity to some extent, but this wider focus adds a dimension not present in the story, that of the irony in which these other residents go through their daily routine, unaware of the drama, a murder, that takes place just an apartment or two away. Normally I am opposed to the practice of adding elements to a film which is based on a story, but in this case, I think it works.

One question arose while I watched the film. He is a voyeur, and I wonder how the other residents would react if they knew he was spying on them as they went about their lives.

I wonder how I would feel if I learned somebody was watching me this way.

Good story and great film--read the story and see the film. What do you think?


  1. Are you in Casper's Hitchcock class too? Kind of coincidental that I have a paper due on this subject tomorrow and you post this today.

  2. Anon,

    Just a coincidence. Hope you enjoyed the post.