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Waxman’s film scores of the 1930s and 1940s were often lushly orchestrated and wildly imaginative; but by the 1950s, the composer was intrigued by the use of smaller ensembles and modern jazz rhythms. Case in point: 1954’s Rear Window, a box office and critical success that is currently being restored for theatrical re-release.
Waxman’s jittery underscore is a masterpiece in miniature, its jukebox jazz bringing a nervous energy to this drama which Hitchcock daringly places in a single setting: the Greenwich Village apartment of photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart), whose voyeuristic study of his neighbors’ windows alerts him to a murder.
The score also manages to incorporate a seductive Waxman melody: the song "Lisa," supposedly composed during the film’s action by one of Jeff’s neighbors, a struggling musician. Any movie viewer will realize, however, that its actual inspiration is the elegant loveliness of Grace Kelly, playing Jeff’s skeptical but loyal girlfriend.
Steven C. Smith is the author of A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann (University of California Press, 1991), and a recipient of the Deems Taylor Award for writing on music. He is currently a writer/producer on the A&E television series Biography.