Hef's Movie Notes: Rear Window

By Hugh Hefner

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Tonight: James Stewart and Grace Kelly, with Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rear Window.

The film is based, in part, on a 1942 short story by Cornell Woolrich.

But the original contained no love story and no other neighbors for the James Stewart character to look in on.

The romance with Grace Kelly was added by Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes, supposedly based upon the love affair between Ingrid Bergman and photographer Robert Capa.

Rear Window was inspired, in part, by the real-life murder of Emily Kaye by Patrick Mahon in 1924, in Sussex, England.

She was his pregnant mistress. He dismembered her body. Hitchcock also studied the 1910 case of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, who poisoned his wife and cut up her body.

It happened in London. The good doctor told the police his wife had moved to Los Angeles. But when his mistress was seen wearing Mrs. Crippen’s jewelry, authorities became suspicious.

James Stewart and Grace Kelly each made three films for Hitchcock in the 1950s, but this was the only one together.

Stewart was 45. Grace Kelly, borrowed from MGM for $25,000, had just turned 25. Both were Catholic, and so was Hitchcock.

Hitch said of Kelly, “I think the subtlety of her sex appeal appeals to me. I think that Grace, as a motion picture performer, conveyed much more sex than the average sexpot.

“But with Grace, you’ve got to find it out, you’ve got to discover it.”

Kelly switched from dating Ray Milland to Oleg Cassini during this production. She usually fell in love with her leading man.

Said Gary Cooper, “Grace looked like she was a mighty cold fish with a man until you got her pants down, then she’d explode!”

James Stewart scoffed at suggestions that Kelly was aloof and cold.

“Grace, cold?” he said. “My Grace is anything but cold. She has those big warm eyes--and, well, if you ever played a love scene with her, you’d know she’s not cold.

Besides, Grace has that twinkle and a touch of larceny in her eyes.”

How did Stewart, a married man, feel about working with her?

“Well,” he said, “I’m married, but I’m not dead!”

A scene called for Kelly to wear a negligee. Hitchcock frowned and called for a conference with Edith Head.

“The bosom isn’t right,” he said tactfully, then made clear what he meant.

“We’re going to have to put something in there,” he said.

Head huddled with Kelly and suggested falsies. Kelly said no. As she recalled, “We took it up here and made some adjustments there, and I just stood up as straight as I could--without falsies. When I walked out onto the set, Hitchcock looked at me and Edith and said, “See what a difference they make!”

Raymond Burr, best remembered as Perry Mason in the TV series, was chosen to play the heavy in tonight’s film because he reminded Hitchcock of his former employer and nemesis, David O. Selznick.

Hitchcock put in his customary cameo appearance in tonight’s film winding a clock in a songwriter’s apartment.

The actor playing the songwriter really was one: Ross Bagdasarian, AKA David Seville, whose hits included novelty numbers by Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Tonight’s story is confined to a single set: Stewart’s apartment, overlooking a courtyard composed of 32 apartments, 12 of which were completely furnished, at a non-existent address in Manhattan--125 West 9th Street.

At the time, the set was the largest ever built indoors at Paramount.

What we see as the courtyard is actually the basement of the studio.

Jimmy Stewart’s apartment was, in reality, street level. And it became Hitchcock’s headquarters while directing the picture.

All the apartments had electricity and running water. They could be lived in, and were lived in during the long days shooting this exercise in physical and psychological claustrophobia.

Film production went from November 29, 1953 (the month in which I launched Playboy) through January 14, 1954.

This was the first of six films that Hitchcock made for Paramount.

Rear Window opened at the Rivoli in New York with a gala premiere on August 4, 1954. Grace Kelly was escorted by her new beau, Oleg Cassini, the ex-Mr. Gene Tierney.

In 1954, John Wayne was the #1 box office star in America, and James Stewart #4. But many theatres playing Rear Window posted only one name as a draw in lights on the marquee outside: Grace Kelly.

The review in the New York Herald Tribune pointed out that her character carried a negligee in her purse when visiting Stewart for overnight sojourns, and declared, “She has never looked more lovable, and that is saying a great deal.”

Variety declared: “A tight suspense show is offered in Rear Window. Hitchcock combines technical and artistic skills in a manner that makes this an unusually good piece of murder mystery entertainment.

“The director draws nerves to a snapping point in developing the thriller phases of the plot.”

Rear Window cost $1,138,000 and earned $9,467,000 in its initial domestic release.

A huge commercial hit! The film earned Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Sound Recording, while winning the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

In 2007, the AFI declared Rear Window the 48th greatest movie ever made.

Some critics consider tonight’s film Hitchcock’s best work.

We do know that after “Shadow of a Doubt, it is the director’s personal favorite. So now--from 1954—James Stewart and Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.


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