Rear Window

Rear Window (1954)
Universal Home Video
Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter
Extras: Documentary, Featurette, Production Photographs, Trailers, Production Notes, Cast & Filmmaker Biographies

Next to "Psycho, " "Rear Window" has to rank as Alfred Hitchcock’s most recognized film, and among his best. After years of absence due to the deterioration of the original negative, "Rear Window" is finally available once again in its full glory. Masterfully restored and coming to DVD as one of Universal Home Video’s Collector’s Editions, "Rear Window" is a DVD I have been waiting for, for a very long time – and with me countless other fans of this suspenseful movie. It is great to finally have the chance to revisit one of Hitchcock’s undisputed masterpieces.

J. B. "Jeff" Jeffries (James Stewart) has had an incident recently. The professional photographer was determined to take the pictures of a lifetime and stepped in the way of a racecar accident. The result, a broken leg and six weeks in a cast in his own Greenwich Village apartment. Bored out of his wits, Jeff can let go of his profession and begins observing the world around him. Since his world is limited to the courtyard and the apartments surrounding him, he begins watching and studying his neighbors. As he becomes more familiar with the cast of characters surrounding him, Jeff begins to suspect a salesman across the yard to have murdered his nagging wife. He begins outlining the plot and as he keeps watching the man, the evidence begins to make sense. He enlists his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) to investigate some of the events which puts him and her in unexpected mortal danger!

The beauty about "Rear Window" is its inherent simplicity and the masterful way in which Alfred Hitchcock tells the story. To put it bluntly, Hitchcock is generally considered a genius for a reason and "Rear Window" is the prime example of his ingenuity. In the hands of a less capable director, "Rear Window" could easily have turned out as a boring, and very static film that is artificially stretched to maintain a decent running length. Under the direction of Hitchcock however, it turned out to be a 2-hour movie that is extremely dynamic and rich and not once losing its pace. Keep an eye on the film’s editing style and the way Hitchcock is using surrounding apartments and their inhabitants to add "color" to the film and how it helps him to create a good pacing that always feels natural. Times during which nothing happens in the actual story are masterfully used to show us vignettes of the people around that at times even mingle with the actual plot. Each of these vignettes is intriguing and exciting to watch, offering a wide variety of interesting characters and events. Combined with the subjective camera work and the suggestive voyeuristic style, "Rear Window" is a striking masterpiece of the movie history.

But like with many other extremely successful and popular films, "Rear Window" has not aged very well. As a matter of fact, the film was close to being lost forever before a massive restoration effort was undertaken some time ago. Because of its success, the original negative of "Rear Window" had been used countless times to create new prints of the film, which over time damaged and destroyed parts of the actual negative. To save "Rear Window" from complete obliteration, restoration experts Robert Harris and James Katz took it upon themselves in 1998 to search the world for all available elements of the film in order to piece together a perfect version of the movie and create a new negative from these elements. For the first time on home video the results can now be seen on Universal Home Video’s DVD release of "Rear Window."

While the result is truly spectacular, the film is still not in mint condition, because it simply can’t without having a pristine camera negative. Given its history and the problems described above however, I daresay that "Rear Window" has never looked any better. The transfer is clean and without any blemishes – although occasional dust marks are evident. The image is solidly registered and never wavers or jitters a bit. However, a good amount of grain is visible throughout the film, which is an inevitable result of the reversal processes the film had to go through for the restoration. While very noticeable I never found the grain distracting however, especially as the color balance of the film more than makes up for it. Featuring a rich palette of Technicolor pastel colors, this transfer also shows us how Hitchcock perfectly used backdrop colors as well as costumes to create images that sometimes have more resemblance with paintings than filmed images. Deep blacks give the presentation very good depth while the lack of compression artifacts ensure a high level of detail throughout the <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation.

The soundtrack for the film has also been cleaned up and turns out to be in pristine condition. Presented as a 2.0 channel mono track, the audio is without distortion. Although the frequency response is noticeably limited due to the film’s age and the technical limitations at the time, it has an almost vintage characteristic that lends value to the entire presentation. Dialogues are always clear nad without sibilance. The music is very well integrated and surprisingly transparent. The jazz theme in the beginning of the film and the ambient neighborhood noises that Hitchcock used to piece together a "real-life" music score are all nicely reproduced.

The "Rear Window" Collector’s Edition contains a number of interesting supplements. "Rear Window Ethics" is a new documentary that offers some interesting insight into the film and its production. Filmmaker and historian Peter Bogdanovich offers valuable information about how Hitchcock made "Rear Window" work, while assistant director Herbert Coleman, among others, talks about some of the memorable moments he had working on the film. Valuable information about the set, the casting, the script and Hitchcock himself is included in this documentary, making it a great addition to the DVD. An entire section of the documentary is dedicated t othe restoration of the film and with its before/after examples it is easy to see in what bad shape the film really was. Ultimately it helps appreciating the effort that went into the restoration all the more.

In a separate featurette, screen writer John Michael Hayes discusses the creation of the film’s script and how it developed over time. He recalls his first encounter with the master himself and candidly discusses some of Hitchcock’s idiosyncrasies. It is a well-rounded featurette with a lot of great insight.

A gallery of production stills and poster art, the movie’s theatrical trailer, the re-release trailer as well a Production Noted and biographies are also included on this release.

"Rear Window" is a timeless masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest directors. It has taken some time for this movie to finally grace DVD – excuse the pun – but it was well worth the wait. Although a little slim in actual content for a Collector’s Edition, the film is in beautiful shape and offers a splendid presentation on this release. The story remains thrilling and suspenseful no matter how many times you watched it, showing once again, just what a masterful storyteller Alfred Hitchcock was. "Rear Window" is without a doubt Hitchcock at his best and this DVD pays proper tribute to his work.