by Braxton Lawrence
From my research, I have come to learn that Alfred Hitchcock was such an influential figure in the history of cinema. He was more than the nickname he was given, “Master of Suspense.” In a career that lasted for six decades, he made over fifty feature films that are still watched and studied to this day. But in my opinion, Mr. Hitchcock to me appears as an odd and unique individual. I see him more as a practical prankster than a famous movie director, he would play cruel pranks on his movie set and his private life. Honestly, I find it hard to believe that other people could work with the kind of man Hitchcock apparently was. He would do stuff like peak into his crewmen personal lives and use their situations like, having affairs in the workplace and putting them into his films. When he was filming The 39 Steps (1935), to help two lead actors build chemistry, he handcuffed them together for a scene and then pretended to have lost the key. He also did some childish things like putting whoopee cushions under his coworker’s chairs and even dyed all the courses blue with food coloring at a dinner party he hosted. And that’s not even the worst thing he has ever done, Hitchcock made a bet with a person that he could not spend a whole night locked in handcuffs and then secretly dosed him with a laxative before slapping on the cuffs. I just find it crazy that Hitchcock, this famous and worshiped movie director is actual a laid back and funny guy. It gives me hope that a guy like me can become a famous director myself because Hitchcock has proven that anyone, no matter who they are or how they act, can become great.
Was Hitchcock the Sole Creative Force Behind His Movies?
No, Hitchcock was not the sole creative force behind his movies, he hired a screenwriter to work closely with him to create the scripts. As a director, Hitchcock often had an ideas for films to be developed from a dramatic set-pieces, like the chase across Mount Rushmore that concludes his film North by Northwest (1959). The director had a reputation for having the visual designs for his films in advance, creating detailed storyboards for each scene in the script. The director designed the storyboards as to enable him to maintain creative control of the filmmaking process and ensure efficiency and economy in the shooting and the editing. Hitchcock’s principal collaborators, cinematographer, art directors and editors, translated his vision onto celluloid. When it comes to common narratives and themes, Alfred Hitchcock was obsessed with crime and the criminal mind. The themes of his films were usually how to commit the perfect murder, the theme of the alter ego, mistaken identity, the transference of guilt and the strange bond between the innocent and the guilty.
Comparing, “It Had to Be Murder” to Rear Window
Fun fact, Alfred Hitchcock made the film Rear Window (1954) as an adaptation of the short story “It Had to Be Murder” written by Cornell Woolrich. So, both stories are very similar, for example, both plots are about a husband who murdered his wife and both main characters suspect this because they were watching them through their own individual windows. They also describe how they see their own neighborhoods and what happens in them. Both of these stories differ through their use of symbols, like in Rear Window, L.B. Jefferies has his camera. L.B. takes pictures with his camera because in the film, he has a leg injury and is unable to stand up and walk to Thorwald’s apartment and has no other way to collect evidence. And he also is used to seeing what his neighbors were up to. In “It Has to Be Murder,” the symbol is the rear window that Hal Jefferies looks out of because it’s the place where he sees everything happening around his apartment, Thorwald’s apartment, the married couple and the rest of the neighbors. There are other differences in plot. In “It Has to Be Murder,” the plot is focused on figuring out the whether a murder was committed, whereas Rear Window’s plot contains a lot more focus on the relationship between characters L.B. and his girlfriend Lisa. “It Has to Be Murder” had the character Sam who took care of Hal but was not important to the plot as a whole. L.B. on the other hand had a women named Stella who helps him discover the truth that Thorwald was trying to hide. In “It Has to Be Murder,” Hal believes that watching other people’s activities is wrong, in his words “sure, I suppose it was a little bit like prying, could even have been mistaken for the fevered concentration of a Peeping Tom.” Rear Window has the characters feel empathy for each other like, how L.B. regrets sending Lisa and Stella to Thorwald’s apartment to look for evidence, knowing they could be killed if the police did not show up in time. What’s most important is that both stories show us that even a man who cannot leave his room can solve a murder case.
Hitchcock’s Contribution to Rear Window
Hitchcock did not write the screenplay for Rear Window but, he was in control of creating the themes for the film through cinematography and set design. Many sources describe how Rear Window expresses the themes of both the universal pleasure of observation and links to Scopophilia, meaning to derive sexual pleasure from looking. This can be seen in the scenes of sunbathing ladies and of the newly-weds in the helicopter overhead shot. He also uses identification processes and a liberal use of subjective camera from the point of view of the male protagonist L.B. Jefferies to draw the spectators into position. Rear Window also characterizes cinema as an instrument of male spectatorship because cinema produces images of women reflecting male sexual fantasies. But that can be argued through the character of Lisa who represents a dominant independent woman and Miss Torso the typical passive female role. The set arrangement aligns L.B.’s apartment with Miss Torso’s and this may be a representation of his internal dilemmas as he questions his relationship with Lisa and his reluctance to commit. In Rear Window, we observe much of the film through L.B.’s perspective even though Hitchcock’s films are known for allowing the audience to know more than the characters in order to prolong suspense. In this case, the suspense comes from the piecing together of observations slowly revealed throughout the film.
Connections Between Shadow of a Doubt and Rear Window
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Rear Window are two Hitchcock films that have a lot in common, starting off with the protagonists of both films. Both L.B. Jefferies and Charlie Newton start off not satisfied with their lives. Charlie is afraid that she will end up like her mother, a boring, normal housewife so she calls her uncle to come and visit to liven things up a bit. L.B. is stuck in a wheelchair and the only thing he can do all day is look outside his apartment window and watch his neighbors. He is a photographer, so sitting somewhere and watching something is very usual for him but he is also dating Lisa Fremont, someone he believes is out of his league. So, he decides to distance himself from her and turns her down every time she suggests that they move in together. They both have to deal with monsters hiding in human skin. Turns out, Charlie’s uncle is a serial killer who had killed four elderly women already by strangling them to death. L.B. had noticed that Thorwald returned to his apartment at two o’clock in the morning and takes out a knife and saw from his suitcase and puts them into the sink. Then, he watches him clean his own bathroom, making him believe that’s where he killed his wife. At the end of both films, the protagonists are almost killed by the murderers. Uncle Charlie first tries to kill his niece by trapping her in the garage and filling it with car exhaust, thank God the neighbor came by and again when he was leaving on the train, but things do not go his way. L.B.’s girlfriend Lisa sneaks into Thorwald’s apartment to find evidence about the murder of Mrs. Thorwald but gets caught. Luckily the police show up before anything bad happens but, L.B. gets caught peeking and Thorwald throws him out his own window.
I had heard about Hitchcock’s wild sense of humor but never heard any of those ridiculous pranks he pulled. The one that especially got me was dying the food blue at a dinner party, that is just the most random joke ever and I love it. There were also some interesting points in here about the connection between Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt, the dissatisfaction of the protagonists with their current lives. This is undoubtedly a theme Hitchcock loves to explore, and I expect to see much more of it as I personally continue to study his films.
This is so interesting. I would’ve never guessed that someone like Hitchcock who seems so committed to his craft and such a meticulous artist would also be such a prankster! Especially if we consider the recurring themes of his films. None of his films were particularly funny, in fact, quite the opposite. I wonder if he did all these things on set to change the mood from the more serious and even tragic tone of his films to a more positive one for the actors and crew.
Regarding his creative process, I find it so fascinated how in touch he was with his work. I think it goes without saying that filmmaking is an art based on collaboration and the ensemble of different minds that are able to bring to life their vision. But I think Hitchcock really stands out in the way he maintain creative control throughout his projects and was able to build all these life long relationships of artistic collaboration where as you mentioned here his films were the end product of an ensemble of work.
I think a lot of his films deal with common themes. As you mentioned he was obsessed with crime, he also dealt with the concept of guilt a lot. I think in Rear Window and Shadow of a doubt he plays with the idea of “kill or get killed”, which in both cases leads to the final confrontation between protagonist and antagonist.
Man, who would have known Hitchcock was such a clown! Sometimes you forget an artist can have a personality. His films are so serious and in-depth… I wouldn’t have expected it. I also didn’t know that Rear Window was based on the short story “It Had To Be Murder.” Woolrich’s story is fantastic, but sounds almost bland next to Hitchcock’s adaptation if you’ve seen the film first. However, I think that’s carried by his choice of adding a love interest who does the most of the dirty work. Also, the title “Rear Window” is far more marketable than “It Has To Be Murder.” Woolrich’s title just gives away too much!
I never knew that Alfred Hitchcock was such a prankster! Secretly giving someone laxatives before having them stay handcuffed for an entire night sounds like torture! Learning more about Hitchcock’s hijinks really helps me understand more of where his inspiration comes from along with the connections made between his movies that involve scandalous plots. I also find it very interesting seeing how many patterns can be found throughout each of Hitchcock’s films such as the use of windows in acts of murder. These details are truly what makes Hitchcock’s films so iconic.
Alfred Hitchcock always came across as very serious about his process for filmmaking, so like everyone else was surprised to find out he enjoyed practical jokes and pranks. Even though he is known for his thrillers, Hitchcock has subtle touches of comedy with his dialogue and often uses physical humor to get his message across. I do think using his crew’s personal lives for material for his films are a bit extreme and unprofessional, it does add real drama and stakes to make for a good story, but just not his to tell. I do enjoy the section about the connection between Shadow of a Doubt and Rear Window, never realized how similar both protagonist’s mindsets are.
This was such an interesting read. Getting a look into both Hitchcock’s artistic process AND goofy personality was so fun! Of course, the fact a lot of this goofiness doesn’t really show in his films shocked me while initially reading, but having this knowledge now is going to give watching more of his films a little bit more spice in the back of my head, considering this is the kind of stuff he was up to behind the scenes. Comparing “It Had To Be Murder” to Rear Window just shows how much vision Hitchcock truly has, taking this story that barely has any personality and molding it into this film, something truly his own. I know for a fact I’d be snoozing by the middle of the book, while Rear Window had me captivated the entire time! I also personally find your last statement in the first section incredibly inspiring. Keep that hope alive!