Alfred Hitchcock ' s " Rear Window " and a Life in the Shadows

In "The Art of Fiction," John Gardner talks about the "fictional dream," the movie running in our minds as we read the words of a story. This can be a precarious process and many of its elements depend on the ability and attitude of the reader. The reader must be carefully guided by a narrator, often a character within the story or a reliable witness to the action.
Film allows its audience to take a more passive role in understanding the story. Cinematic narration relays its story through visual cues which may compact a greater amount of information in a shorter time. While written and cinematic narration both convey description and viewpoint, the old saying holds true and "a picture is worth a thousand words."
The 1942 short story “It Had to Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich, the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's film "Rear Window," echoes the sense of doom and personal impotence found in much of Woolrich’s fiction. Because of his homosexuality, Woolrich must have understood the dichotomy of walking between the shadows and the light. Francis Nevins called Woolrich “the Poe of the 20th century and the poet of its shadows, the Hitchcock of the written word” (Francis M. Nevins. “Tonight, Somewhere in New York”. Carroll & Graf, New York, 2005. p. 1). In this story, his hero suffers from a broken leg and is relegated to the status of "peeping Tom." As an invalid he must depend upon the actions of others to impact his surroundings, and if he is not believed or at least taken seriously he cannot effect change. When his suspicious neighbor confronts him in his own apartment, the hero is unable to defend himself and must be rescued.
Woolrich's fiction seems to echo or parallel his own life experience. This fragment was found in Woolrich’s papers after his death in 1968:
“I was only trying to cheat death. I was only trying to surmount for a while the darkness that all my life I surely knew was going to come rolling in on me one day and obliterate me. I was only trying to stay alive a brief while longer, after I was already gone. To stay in the light, to be with the living, a little while past my time.” (”Blues of a Lifetime. The Autobiography of Cornell Woolrich.” ed. Mark T. Bassett. Bowling Green State University Popular Press. Bowling Green, 1991. p. 152).

"Rear Window" is considered by many to be one of director Alfred Hitchcock's best and most thrilling films. We see how the hero (photographer L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries, played by James Stewart) not only is separated from his neighbors by a courtyard, window blinds, and a broken leg, but also how he must depend on binoculars to bring the world in closer and other people to interact with it. We can see his sympathy for Ms. Lonely Hearts and understand how he must relate to her lonely plight, and wonder why he avoids the topic of marriage with his beautiful girlfriend (Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly). Even Jeffries' profession reminds us of someone attempting to connect with reality through a camera lens. Ultimately, we understand how we all can be limited in some way and relate to a feeling of personal ineffectiveness.
Critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times remarked:
Mr. Hitchcock's film is not "significant." What it has to say about people and human nature is superficial and glib. But it does expose many facets of the loneliness of city life and it tacitly demonstrates the impulse of morbid curiosity. The purpose of it is sensation, and that it generally provides in the colorfulness of its detail and in the flood of menace toward the end.

Perhaps Hollywood felt content with merely producing another thriller and wasn't quite ready to explore the original story's particular brand of shadows. The film received four Academy Award nominations: Best Director for Alfred Hitchcock, Best Screenplay for John Michael Hayes, Best Cinematography, Color for Robert Burks, Best Sound Recording for Loren L. Ryder, Paramount Pictures. John Michael Hayes won a 1955 Edgar Award for best motion picture.

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