Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is known as a classic of the suspense genre. An adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story, originally-titled “It Had to be Murder,” the film follows the voyeuristic tendencies of the film’s protagonist, L.B. Jeffries, a photographer who is confined to his apartment by a broken leg.
The film deviates in significant ways from “It Had to be Murder.” Both storylines focus on the protagonist spying upon his neighbor, who he is sure had committed a murder, Hitchcock’s film builds a neighborhood around the scenario and adds a love story. Thematically, the neighborhood serves as a sort of spectrum of romantic relationships, from the newlywed couple to the aging single woman, to the young dancer who is seemingly courted by everyone. This sort of background character development is largely missing from Woolrich’s book, which has a different focus than Hitchcock’s film.
The thematic focus of Hitchcock’s story is not the murder, but his relationship with Lisa. The film begins with his certainty that they cannot share a life together because of their differences. The ending hints at a shared life together. Lisa is shown in jeans rather than her thousand dollar dresses. She reads a book on the Himalayas, but then picks up a copy of Bazaar, implying her attempt to combine both her high-fashion world and Jeffries’s grittier, adventurous life.
The film’s ending shows all of the relationships around Jeffries progressing. The viewer witnesses a great amount of character development in the neighborhood. The newlyweds bicker at breakfast. Miss Torso’s geeky boyfriend comes home from the Army. Miss Lonelyhearts sits and listens to the new record of the songwriter, a song which literally saved her from suicide.
The murderer is likely imprisoned, but that is made less important than the fact that by the end of the movie, Jeffries’s focus has turned on his own life and relationship rather than those that he can see through his camera lens.
The film is considered to be one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, and its reception made “It Had to Be Murder,” later changed to “Rear Window,” Woolrich’s best known story. Renzi writes that “If Cornell Woolrich has any name recognition with the general public, it is most likely because of Hitchcock’s…superb adaptation” (151).
The film has more depth than Woolrich’s original story, mostly due to the layers added with the additional focus on a city neighborhood and the development of Jeffries’s love life. However, the central plot remains intact and is a good example of the sort of timeless suspense scenario that has made Woolrich’s stories attractive to Hollywood.