As said last night, I planned to do multiple Movie Facts on 1954’s “Rear Window”. As mentioned last night, the entire film was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction.
Just to refresh your memory, the apartment-courtyard set measured 98 feet wide, 185 feet long and 40 feet high, and consisted of 31 apartments, eight of which were completely furnished. The courtyard itself was set 20 to 30 feet below stage level. This was to accommodate the enormous set because a higher ceiling was required so director Alfred Hitchcock had the production company tear out the entire floor of the studio, revealing the basement. So what the audience sees as the courtyard was originally the basement level of the studio. At the time the set of this film was the largest indoor set built at Paramount Studios. Since the apartment of the lead character L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (Played by James Stewart) was technically on the second floor of his building, that meant the apartment was actually on stage level since the courtyard was in the basement level of the building.
The set itself included 31 apartments, of which 12 were fully furnished. The whole thing became a marvel that visitors to the studio were eager to see. In fact, the set was featured in magazine spreads while shooting was still in progress. The final touch to creating the outdoor nature of the neighborhood was the lighting…which would be a challenge to work with and a nightmare for some cast members.
The enormous set had to have four lighting set-ups always in place for various times of the day. Remote switches located in Jeff’s apartment controlled the intricate lighting. Virtually every piece of lighting that wasn’t employed on another Paramount picture had to be used. In fact, by some counts 1,000 huge arc lights and 2,000 smaller ones were used. At one point, the lights were so hot they caused the sprinkler system to go off, which shut everything down and plunged the set into total darkness although Hitchcock wasn’t bothered as he calmly told an assistant to bring him an umbrella and let him know when the “rain” stopped. However, thanks to extensive pre-lighting of the set, the crew could make the changeover from day to night in under forty-five minutes. It should be noted that it wasn’t just Point A to Point B.
According to actress Georgine Darcy, who played the character Miss Torso, there were four separate lighting settings for the film, which were meant to replicate early morning, afternoon, late evening, and night. Darcy also noted that for some of the settings, the heat from the lights was nearly unbearable for the actors on the top floor of the apartment buildings that were constructed to be five to six stories high.
Technical innovation in a film is a greatly undervalued aspect of filmmaking. It involves creating the setting and feeling of the environment that the actors work in. With a lot of work, and lights, Hitchcock pulled off a set that could simulate the world. Guess Hitchcock could stop the sun from going down…in his own way.