The screenplay for Rear Window makes use of only two locations throughout the entire story. The Interior of the protagonist’s, Jeffries’, apartment and the exterior courtyard of the apartment that becomes a playground of peoples’ private lives.
Hitchcock created an elaborate set for Jeffries’ point of view of his neighbors, thus the camera never need change locations. The scenes are a series of shots of Jeffries’ reactions to his neighbors through their windows. The reactionary actions of Jeffries serve not only as a tool to the suspense of the plot, but also his characterization. The phone conversation that introduces Jeffries foreshadows both elements of plot suspense and his characterized bachelorhood. On page ten he say’s to his editor “if you don’t pull me out of this swamp of boredom – I’ll do something drastic – I’ll get married – imagine me rushing home to a hot apartment to listen to – a nagging wife.” As the story progresses we see that in a state of boredom, and a broken leg, Jeffries involves himself in a drastic plot of murder as his girlfriend poses the threat of marriage.
The script’s dialogue holds a rich subtext of Jeffries’ fears of marriage in which he externalizes through spying on his neighbors. In reading the screenplay this subtext becomes clear as black and white on the page, as opposed to hearing it from complex characters trapped in Hitchcock’s Mise`-en-Scene. There is even a line that refers to subtext when Jeffries’ nurse Stella says to him, “Behind every ridiculous statement is always hidden the true cause.”
The first three pages of the screenplay do a complete visual introduction to Jeffries and his surroundings. We know that he lives in a small urban apartment described as a “neighborhood not prosperous, neither poor, but a conventional dwelling place for people living on marginal incomes, luck – or hope and careful planning.” We know that it is summer as windows are wide open, people are sweating, children are playing in a fire hydrant and a thermometer reads 84 degrees.
When the screenplay commands the camera to introduce Jeffries, his description reads as so; “tall, lean, energetic, thirty-five, his face long and serious – looking at rest, is in other circumstances capable of humor, passion, naïve wonder and the kind of intensity that bespeaks inner convictions or moral strength and basic honesty.” It seems that such a description sets up not only his introduction, but also what we should expect from this character. As only Jimmy Stewart could portray such a face while sleeping, it also seems written exclusively for him. In these first five minutes we also see that the protagonist is an active photojournalist from the pictures on his wall. This establishes his conflict as an adventurous man stuck home with a broken leg, which is followed by his phone conversation with his editor.
Interesting aspects of the writing are the use of described character actions. Some examples are, “his body visibly tensing,” and “his brow knits a little awe.” Even the actions of a little dog are written poetically as he “emerges reluctantly.” As much as the screenplay was written for a director who knew what he wanted already, the clearly stated imagery offers any filmmaker a solid blueprint of action and dialogue.
What a beginning writer can learn most from Rear Window is studying the described reaction of characters. We know when a moment is suspenseful as opposed to humorous by the reactions. These described actions also reveal the fears and desires of the characters through their reactions as well as how the other characters around them react. It is also a humorous introduction to the use of subtext and how to utilize it through contrasting what the character says to what is shown on the screen. One moment that best supports this is when Jeffries asks a friend standing in his apartment “how’s the wife,” as on the screen we see his point of view shot of his voluptuous neighbor, Ms. Torso, with her body on display. In this scene Jeffries’ friend is also criticizing him for spying on his neighbors, just as he is staring out at Ms. Torso, adding another layer of subtext.
These are just a few examples, but serve richly to establish Jeffries’ character and situation. To analyze the script’s full layering of subtext and further character development would be in essence an entire book’s worth of clever interpretation and in fact there are two or three. Herein, the analysis was only to recognize the ingenious set-up by Hayes undoubtedly influenced under the masterful intentions of Hitchcock himself.