An Analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”
Alfred Hitchcock's “Rear Window” (1954) is one of the most popular and successful films ever made. It is based on the 1942 short story "It Had to Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich, which was first published in Dime Mystery Magazine. Hitchcock's adaptation of the story is very faithful to the original, except for a few key details.
The success of the film's interpretation was due to the fact that despite the changes, the main idea was transferred perfectly by Hitchcock which is the feel of suspense. In this essay, I will be discussing the differences between the short story and the film, as well as analysing how successful Hitchcock was in his adaptation. I will also be looking at the thematic changes in the ending, as well as Hitchcock's development of the subplots. Finally, I will be analysing gender roles in “Rear Window” and how they are represented in both the short story and the film.
2. Differences in the Adaptation of “Rear Window”
There are several key differences between Woolrich's short story and Hitchcock's film adaptation of “Rear Window”. The most notable difference is the ending. In the film, after L.B. Jeffries (played by James Stewart) has exposed Thorwald (played by Raymond Burr) as a murderer, he and Lisa Carol Fremont (played by Grace Kelly) get married. However, in Woolrich's original story, Jeffries does not marry Lisa and instead remains single.
Another significant difference is that in the film, Jeffries is a photographer, whereas in the original story he is a reporter. This change was made by Hitchcock so that he could use Jeffries' profession as a way to justify his voyeuristic behaviour. Additionally, in Hitchcock's adaptation Thorwald is an insurance salesman, whereas in Woolrich's story he is an engineer. This change was made so that Thorwald would have a job that would give him access to many different apartments, thus making it easier for him to dispose of his wife's body without being noticed.
3. The Success of Hitchcock's Interpretation
Hitchcock was very successful in his interpretation of Woolrich's short story. One of the main reasons for this is because he managed to perfectly capture the feeling of suspense that is present throughout both the story and the film. Another reason for Hitchcock's success is his attention to detail. For example, in order to make Jeffries' voyeuristic behaviour seem more believable, Hitchcock included a scene where Jeffries is taking pictures of a woman undressing in her apartment across from his own. This scene not only makes Jeffries' character more believable, but it also manages to add an extra layer of suspense to the film.
4. Thematic Changes in the Ending
One of the most significant changes that Hitchcock made to Woolrich's original story is the ending. In the film, Jeffries and Lisa get married, whereas in the short story they do not. This change was made by Hitchcock so that the film would have a happy ending. However, some critics have argued that this change betrays the thematic suggestiveness of Woolrich's original story.
In Woolrich's story, Jeffries remains single and continues to engage in his voyeuristic behaviour. This suggests that even though he has exposed Thorwald as a murderer, he has not changed and is still capable of committing crimes himself. Hitchcock's decision to have Jeffries and Lisa get married at the end of the film suggests that they have both changed and are now capable of leading a happy and normal life together. This change dilutes the dark and suspenseful tone of Woolrich's original story and makes the ending seem much more optimistic.
5. Hitchcock's Development of the Subplots
Hitchcock was also successful in his development of the subplots in “Rear Window”. In the film, there are several subplots that help to add suspense and keep the viewer engaged. For example, there is the subplot involving Miss Lonelyhearts (played by Judith Evelyn), who is a lonely spinster who spends her days writing letters to advice columnists. In one of the letters she writes, she mentions that she is planning to commit suicide on Thursday night. This subplot helps to add an extra layer of suspense to the film as we are left wondering whether or not Miss Lonelyhearts will go through with her plan.
Another example of a successful subplot is the one involving Marjorie (played by Doris Day), Jeffries' housekeeper. In the film, Marjorie is shown to be very clumsy and always getting into accidents. This subplot is used for comic relief and also helps to build suspense as we wonder if Marjorie will hurt herself or someone else.
6. Gender Roles in “Rear Window”
Gender roles are an important aspect of both Woolrich's short story and Hitchcock's film adaptation of “Rear Window". In both woolrich’s story and hitchcock’s film, gender roles are traditional with men being the breadwinners and women being homemakers. However, there are some subtle differences between how these roles are portrayed in both the short story and the film.
In Woolrich’s short story, Lisa Carol Fremont is shown to be a very independent woman who is not afraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself. She is also shown to be very career-oriented, which is unusual for a woman in Woolrich’s time period. On the other hand, Lisa in Hitchcock’s film adaptation is shown to be much more demure and traditional. She is also less independent than her counterpart in Woolrich’s story and is shown to be more concerned with her relationship with Jeffries.
Additionally, Hitchcock’s film depicts Marjorie, Jeffries’ housekeeper, as a very clumsy woman who is always getting into accidents. This is in contrast to Woolrich’s portrayal of Marjorie, who is shown to be much more competent and capable. This difference is likely due to the fact that Hitchcock was trying to add comic relief to his film and did not want Marjorie to be taken too seriously.
Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s short story “Rear Window” is one of the most successful and popular films ever made. Hitchcock was able to perfectly capture the feeling of suspense that is present throughout both the story and the film. He was also successful in his development of the subplots and his attention to detail. Finally, he was able to create believable and relatable characters, particularly in his portrayal of Lisa Carol Fremont.
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