Rear Window: Collector’s Edition

January 28, 2012 14 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) has spent the last six weeks of his life in a wheelchair looking out his window merely to pass the time. Unfortunately, one of the perils of being a good photographer is that occasionally he has to get in the shot; and in this case, he got hit by a car while taking the picture and has to spend seven weeks in a cast. Though wheelchair bound, he does have a maid come by to feed him and give him back massages, as sort of a “bonus” she offers unsolicited advice and warns of his future trouble that he will encounter as a result of his habits as a “Peeping Tom”. His girlfriend, Lisa (the lovely Grace Kelly) is a fashion connoisseur who models (though does not buy) thousand dollar dresses and sells them at a markup. A social butterfly she is, but her heart belongs to Jeffires, but it would seem that even if he knows it, he is reluctant to accept her love and settle down like everyone else. Jeffries has but a week to go in his cast, he scratches it with vigor, but usually to no avail. Jeffires’ real passion has become watching his neighbors in the building across the way. There’s several, all of which he has never spoken to and knows no one’s name. “Miss Torso”, a woman of incredible beauty is somewhat of a party girl, she bounces around in the morning and entertains at night. “The Newlyweds” are just that, a man and woman who have just been married and, not surprisingly, spend most of the time with their shade pulled! “Miss Lonely Hearts” is a woman who can’t seem to find Mr. Right and cries herself to sleep on more than one occasion; but perhaps the most interesting couple are the Thornwald’s. Jeffries referrs to Mr. Thornwald (Raymond Burr) as the traveling salesman and her as the envilid

A funny thing starts to happen to Jeff as he continues to become more and more intrigued with the lives of these people. First of all, he doesn’t even know them. He doesn’t know their real names, what they really do or anything personal about them. He only knows what he observes through his window (his rear window, if you will). What has once become a means for passing time, has now become an obsession and Jeff is right in the middle of it. All is well with the other parties, except that the Thornwald’s seem to have a love-hate relationship. The wife will wine and complain until the husband is noticeably irritated, then he storms out of the room. This goes on a few times (we only see what Jeffries does for the majority of the movie), until there is a scream and we don’t see or hear from Mrs. Thornwald anymore. Believing what anyone else would believe, Jeffries phones his friend at the police department and is trying to investigate a murder. The problem with investigating a murder with no body, motive or evidence is that you have to have a really trusting friend on the inside to help you out. Jeff does and he doesn’t…With Lisa starting to get noticeably frustrated with their relationship, she stars to become concerned about the manner in which Jeff is behaving, until she too is drawn into the story.

We notice that Mr. Thornwald is somewhat of an avid gardener, though not the most friendly person, he does have an affection for flowers, and spends time in the garden in the courtyard. Among all of the other “plots” going on, this is the one that the story focuses on (originally based on the short story, there were no other plots, just James Stewart’s character “witnessing” a murder through a window). As with all Hitchcock movies, the buildup is slow, but as the clues start to build, so does the story. Eventually, the plot takes on a snowball effect which makes it hard to ignore the fact that you’re watching one of the greatest movies ever made! Filmed entirely on a Paramount set, Rear Window never changes a scene that doesn’t take part in Jeffries’ apartment or in the building across the street. There are images of “life” outside, such as cars going by and businesses being open for business, but the mood is entirely set in the apartment and I can’t picture it any other way. Some consider this to be Hitchcock’s finest film, while others would argue that “Psycho” or “Vertigo” were. James Stewart also turns in another great (if not one of his best) performances. Just like Denzel Washington in “The Bone Collector”, Stewart proves that you don’t have to be physically mobile to have a remarkable role as an actor. It all comes down to personal preference, I suppose. I’ve seen all three and I would have to say that I like this one the best. Is it the plot, the acting or the director (or all three). With Hitchcock, it’s hard to say, but this DVD is one that must be on your shelf.

Video: How does it look?

I’m pleased to say that one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces is presented in an anamorphic 1.66:1 format. Some of Hitchcock’s movies were made before the Academy Standard (1.85) was implemented, so they are shown in full-frame, as opposed to this one which does benefit from the new 16:9 transfer. The video for this movie is a bit tricky. At first glance, it seems that there is some evidence of pixelation all over the place, but it seems to get better during the course of the movie. In the documentary, there is a section on how they restored this movie and what steps were taken to insure that the picture looked as best it could. The hard part was that the original print had been used to make almost 400 copies, so they would cover the negative with a varnish of some sort. This causes the yellow hues of the movie to be almost completely gone (giving Grace Kelly a wonderful orangish-green appearance in some scenes). They managed to fix this for the DVD and the reissue as well. As a result of the side by side comparisons that were shown on the documentary, I would have to say that compared to what the movie did look like and what it looks like on DVD…it is a noticeable improvement. While the transfer pales in comparison to some, if not all, of the movies released today, it still looks the best it’s ever looked. Of course, one can’t help but to compare it to another Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest, which left everyone’s jaw wide open as to how good it looked on DVD. Still, Universal has taken their time with this release and it is anamorphic, so we’re really left with little to complain about. Though not perfect visually, the movie itself comes as close to perfect as anything else (if that helps)!

Audio: How does it sound?

As with most every release in the 50’s (and most from the 60’s-70’s), the sound mix is a Dolby Digital Mono. Essentially a plot, dialogue-driven movie, there is no need for a new soundtrack, even though some tracks have been “remastered” in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. I suppose I would be curious to see or hear rather, what this would sound like if the same movie were made today, but the mono sound more than serves it’s purpose. Dialogue is very clean and clear, though in some instances it’s a bit drowned out. Since there are really no other surround effects to talk about, I can safely say that if anything detracts you from “Rear Window” it won’t be the audio.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Of all the Hitchcock movies released, only a few have been released as full-fledged Collector’s Series. Psycho, an early release by Universal had it’s share of extras and Rear Window. While modern movies like Meet the Parents and Bring it On are positively loaded with extras that will keep you busy for hours, Rear Window has it’s share of goodies to occupy your time as well. The most notable feature on this disc is the 55 minute documentary entitled “Rear Window ethics: Remembering and Restoring a Hitchcock Classic”. The first part of this documentary focuses on the movie itself with interviews with the crew members who are still alive. The screenwriter, John Michael Hayes, adds how the script was conceived and what it took to make it to the big screen. The second part of the documentary is the part I enjoyed the most. The men who helped restore the film, tell the process they went through to get it to look the way they did. As I mentioned above, the yellow layer of the film was almost entirely gone, so they had to “rebuild” it step by step. Side by side comparisons of the before and after shots show how much improvement there really is in this movie. All in all, it reminded me of “The Limey” where they break down what goes into making a DVD transfer. Very interesting.

A featurette, measuring about 15 minutes in length, is a conversation with the Screenwriter John Michael Hayes (he tends to be featured a lot, as he is one of the few remaining crew members alive). In this featurette, he tells more of how he came to meet and get the job from Hitchcock; and was hence assigned the task of adapting the screenplay from the short story to the screen. Again, a very interesting feature. Some Production Photographs are also included, showing the various versions of the posters from the US and around the world as well. It’s amazing to see how some of the posters focused on key moments of the movie and even further, how some of the drawings didn’t even resemble James Stewart and Grace Kelly! A re-release trailer of the movie is narrated by James Stewart. This is included along with “The Trouble With Harry”, “Vertigo”, “Rope”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, as a group of Hitchcock classics were re-released some time ago. The original theatrical trailer is also included as well as the typical Production Notes and Cast BIOS It was a bit sad to see that of all the cast and crew, only Screenwriter John Michael Hayes is still alive. Lastly, a DVD-ROM feature is set up so you can access the original script (which shows how detailed Hitchcock really was). Overall, a great disc for one of the best all time movies.

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