Alfred Hitchcock is known as the “Master of Suspense” with more than 50 films under his name and a career spanning six decades. From “Psycho” to “The Birds,” his highly praised films have won numerous awards and recognition. But when discussing Hitchcock’s filmography, it’s hard to leave out his 1954 thriller “Rear Window.” The film is considered by many to be one of Hitchcock’s best works and one of the greatest films ever made. Of course, with a Hitchcock movie, amazing suspense, quality camerawork , and great plotlines are all a given, but the film is also famous for its incredible single set design.
The story of the mystery film follows a recuperating news photographer who has been confined in a wheelchair and is forced to pass time by observing the mundane day-to-day activities from his rear window. As he spies on the occupants of neighboring apartments, he becomes convinced that a murder has taken place.
Due to the nature of the film’s wheelchair ridden and apartment trapped central protagonist, we see the story of the film unfold from his perspective. As a result, The entirety of “Rear Window” takes place in and around the back courtyard connecting apartments in Greenwich Village, New York City. But the apartment block that we see on screen was actually all fabricated with the movie being shot entirely on a gigantic set built at Paramount Studios on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.
Instead of shooting on location, Hitchcock opted to build a set based on courtyards he had observed and photographed in New York City’s Greenwich Village. This required the building of one of the largest indoor sets constructed in Hollywood at the time. In fact, the set was so large and would not fit into any available studio at Paramount that the studio floor had to be removed to allow for the building of the set. So in actuality, the courtyard was below the basement of the studio, and the top-floor apartments were at street level with the studio exterior. The whole set was almost 100 feet wide, 185 feet long, and 40 feet high. And there were 31 total apartments in the set with several of them being fully furnished with working plumbing and utilities. Since the set was indoors, over 1,000 lights had to be used to imitate the brightness of natural sunlight to make the set look as if it was an actual outdoors apartment block. In total, construction of the set cost around $75-100k, which was a big expense for 1954.
In this behind the scenes photo, you can see Alfred Hitchcock himself leisurely reading the newspaper while seated on one of the buildings rooftops. Without the background information, this would look like an actual apartment block which just goes to show you how impressive the set design was and in the video below, you can see a time-lapse that shows just how large the scale of the whole set really was.