Cornell Woolrich’s Rear Window and Other Stories
A Review by Curt J. Evans

CORNELL WOOLRICH – Rear Window and Other Stories. Penguin, paperback, 1994. First published as Rear Window and Four Short Novels: Ballantine, paperback original, 1984.


    There have been so many Cornell Woolrich short story collections collected over the years that one can enter into an agonizing state of suspense just trying to decide which of these collections to buy. Fortunately I can assure you — if you do not know it already — that this particular collection is a corker.

    Interestingly, not only is the title short story (“Rear Window,” 1942) associated with that cinematic master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, so are the collection’s additional four tales: “Post-Mortem” (1940), “Three O’Clock” (1938), “Change of Murder” (1936) and “Momentum” (1940). Indeed, I strongly suspect this is why they are collected here in this volume.

    Rear Window of course, is one of Hitchcock’s great films, while “Post-Mortem,” “Change of Murder” and “Momentum” all were filmed for the memorable television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Change of Murder” as “the Big Switch”) and “Three O’Clock” was directed by Hitchcock himself for the fifties television series Suspicion.


    I have seen all of these adaptations bar “Three O’Clock” and all are first class mystery entertainment. (“Three O’Clock” was retitled “Four O’Clock” and shown as the first episode of Suspicion on 30 September 1957. I have never seen an episode of this series.)

    Woolrich’s “Rear Window” is an excellent story, but for me it has been rather upstaged by the film. Not so the rest, however. Of the remaining four stories the most minor is the early Woolrich tale “Change of Murder,” though it a clever little piece with a nice twist in the tail (it also is the shortest of the five by far).

    “Momentum” is a strong work (again with a fine twist), but my absolute favorites in this collection are “Post-Mortem” and “Three O’Clock.” Though I have great admiration for the droll television adaptation of the former (with its excellent performances by Joanna Moore, Tatum O’Neal’s mother, and Steve Forrest, a brother of Dana Andrews), I found the story easily stands on its own as a biting and ironic domestic suspense classic rather on the order of Dorothy L. Sayers’ brilliant “Suspicion.” Quite a bit of plot complexity is packed into this tale (which was streamlined in the adaptation).


    As indicated above, “Three O’Clock” was completely new to me, and I found it a powerful screw turner of tension. Again the tale has a domestic setting, but where “Post-Mortem” is black comedy, “Three O’Clock” is just blackly grim — and powerfully and memorably so.

    Suspense is remorselessly (if at times improbably) drawn out and the twist, when it came, took me totally by surprise. I hesitate to say anything in detail about the plot for those who have not read the tale or seen the television adaptation. To those people: just read it!

    Rear Window and Other Stories seems to me a great place to start a literary relationship with the great master of suspense Cornell Woolrich. It is also one to return to again and again … if you dare. Unpleasant dreams!