Alfred Hitchcock, 'Rear Window' and American Romance


  • David Kelly


In 1954 Alfred Hitchcock released his adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story ‘It Had To Be Murder’, bringing it before the American public in the form of the claustrophobic and riveting thriller ‘Rear Window’. 12 years is a relatively short space of time from story to film but this was an extraordinarily eventful period in American national life and, as all adaptations are as much of their time as they are efforts to recreate in another medium something of the original text that inspired them, this paper considers what sort of effects this might have had on the process of adaptation and any potential transformations of textual meaning that might have occurred between story and film. Such a consideration is especially appropriate with a filmmaker like Alfred Hitchcock, who never felt the constraints of fidelity when it came to the task of adaptation; as he memorably observed of his own approach in conversation with Truffaut: ‘What I do is to read a story only once, and if I like the basic idea, I just forget all about the book and start to create cinema.’ The paper, then, looks at Hitchcock’s film from the perspective of unfaithful but inventive adaptation by considering ‘Rear Window’ in the light of the generic background of Woolrich’s story -- in particular the then emergent sense of a peculiarly American Romance genre – and goes on to analyse the nature of generic transformation in adaptations of the classical Hollywood era against the background of the cultural dynamics of American intellectual, political and social life through the '40s and '50s.