Thursday, November 12, 2015

Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954)

(This blog post is part of The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema)

When the phrase "Hitchcock Blonde" is mentioned, the actress that is likely to come to mind is Grace Kelly. What is more, the image of Grace Kelly that comes to mind is likely the way the actress looked in the Hitchcock classic Rear Window (1954). In fact, an argument can be made that Lisa Carol Fremont in Rear Window could be her most iconic role.

Of course, Grace Kelly had previously worked with Alfred Hitchcock on the movie Dial M for Murder (1954). Grace Kelly came to Alfred Hitchcock's attention through a screen test she had made in 1952 for the movie Taxi (1953). In the screen test she played opposite actor Robert Alda. Ultimately neither would be cast in the film, with Dan Dailey and Constance Smith ultimately playing the lead roles. Regardless, Alfred Hitchcock liked Miss Kelly's screen test and, as a result, cast her in Dial M for Murder. While making Dial M for Murder Alfred Hitchcock talked to Grace Kelly about Rear Window, even though he did not mention casting her in the film at the time. Miss Kelly was so eager to play Lisa in Rear Window that she even turned down the chance to star opposite Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954). That role eventually went to Eva Marie Saint.

Rear Window was based on the short story "It Had to Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich. The screenplay was written by John Michael Hayes. The original short story had no primary female character, so Alfred Hitchcock asked Mr. Hayes to spend a week or two with Grace Kelly to get to know her. In the end the character of Lisa was based on a combination of Grace Kelly and his wife, the former Mildred Louise Hicks, who had modelled under the name Mel Lawrence. 

Jimmy Stewart was cast in the lead role of L. B. "Jeff" Jefferies, a photographer confined to his wheelchair after breaking his leg. With nothing better to do all day, Jeff develops a habit of watching his neighbours in the apartment building across a courtyard from his own. Ultimately he becomes convinced that he has witnessed a murder. Jimmy Stewart was very happy about the casting of Grace Kelly. He said of her, "She was kind to everybody, so considerate, just great, and so beautiful." He also praised her talent, saying that she had "...complete understanding of the way motion picture acting is carried out."  

The costumes for Rear Window were designed by the legendary Edith Head, whom Hitchcock employed on all of the films he made for Paramount. As was typical of the director, Alfred Hitchcock worked closely with Miss Head in creating the look of Grace Kelly's character. Despite this there was one instance where Edith Head and Grace Kelly got around what Alfred Hitchcock wanted. For a scene in which Grace Kelly was required to wear a negligee he suggested that falsies be used to give Miss Kelly a more busty look. Edith Head and Grace Kelly did not go along with the idea, and instead Miss Head made subtle changes to the costume while Miss Kelly changed her posture. Alfred Hitchcock never knew the difference.

Amazingly enough given the fact that film is set in two apartment buildings separated by a courtyard, Rear Window was shot entirely on one set. The basement of the Paramount soundstage was actually excavated so that the buildings could be multiple storeys. The courtyard was actually the basement floor of the soundstage and Jeff's upper storey apartment was actually at street level. What is more, all of the apartments in the building that Jeff watches all day had running water and electricity. Georgine Darcy, who played "Miss Torso", very nearly lived in her apartment during the shooting of Rear Window, spending the entire day there.

A world premiere for Rear Window was held on August 4 1954 to benefit the American-Korean Foundation, a charity founded shortly after the end of the Korean War. Rear Window went into wide release on September 1 1954. The film received overwhelmingly good reviews. After The 39 Steps Time magazine considered it "just possibly the second most entertaining picture ever made by Alfred Hitchcock." It did very well at the box office, grossing $27,559,601 at the American box office. In the end it was the third highest grossing film of 1954.  Rear Window was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Director; Best Story and Screenplay;  Best Cinematography, Colour; and Best Sound Recording,

For many years Rear Window would be unavailable, along with Alfred Hitchcock's films Rope (1948), The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958). The rights to all five were owned by Alfred Hitchcock. Except for Rope, the films had bee made at Paramount, with whom Hitchcock's contract stipulated that ownership of the films would revert to him after eight years. For whatever reason Alfred Hitchcock removed the films from circulation in the Sixties, although he did will the rights to the films to his daughter Patricia. Fortunately in the Eighties the films re-emerged in circulation. Rear Window was shown legally for the first time in nearly two decades. Upon its re-release Rear Window was still counted as one of Hitchcock's masterpieces. 

As to Grace Kelly, the role of Lisa in Rear Window was a pivotal one. Miss Kelly received good notices for her performance in the film, with both New York Times critic Bosley Crowther and the critic at Variety taking note of her. In many respects Rear Window marked a change from the sort of roles Grace Kelly usually played. She was not simply window dressing. She was not merely the passive wife or girlfriend of the lead character. Lisa was a woman who made her own living at her own career. What is more, as Jeff is wheelchair bound throughout the movie, it is Lisa who must engage in much of the film's action.

Today Rear Window is considered one of Hitchcock's greatest films. It is one of the very, very few films that holds a 100% Fresh rating at the website Rotten Tomatoes. There can be little doubt that much of the reason for the film's lasting success is Grace Kelly. In Rear Window she did not simply play a beautiful woman, but she also played a woman who was independent and self-sufficient as well. In the end it made her one of the most iconic of the Hitchcock Blondes.

1 comment:

Virginie Pronovost said...

Brilliant review Terence! I love reading your articles, they are just so well written, informative and entertaining! Thanks for your participation to the blogathon. Don't forget to read my entry as well (if you haven't)! :)