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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Alfred Hitchcock
Cast:
James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Judith Evelyn, Ross Bagdasarian, Georgine Darcy
Writing Credits:
Cornell Woolrich (short story), John Michael Hayes

Tagline:
The most unusual and intimate journey into human emotions ever filmed!

Synopsis:
None of Hitchcock's films has ever given a clearer view of his genius for suspense than Rear Window. When professional photographer J.B "Jeff" Jeffries (James Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg, he becomes obsessed with watching the private dramas of his neighbors play out across the courtyard. When he suspects a salesman may have murdered his nagging wife, Jeffries enlists the help of his glamorous socialite girlfriend (Grace Kelly) to investigate the highly suspicious chain of events ... Events that ultimately lead to one of the most memorable and gripping endings in all of film history.

Box Office:
Budget
$1.0 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.66:1/16x9
Audio:
English Monaural
French Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 10/7/2008

Bonus:
DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian John Fawell
• Production Photographs
• Production Notes
• Theatrical Trailer
• Re-Release Trailer Narrated by James Stewart
DVD Two:
• "Rear Window Ethics" Documentary
• “A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes”
• “Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master” Featurette
• “Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock” Featurette
• Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview Excerpts
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Episode: “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret”


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RELATED REVIEWS


Rear Window: Special Edition - Universal Legacy Series (1954)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 8, 2008)

Much of the beauty of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic Rear Window stems from its simplicity. All of the film’s action revolves around on small apartment, as our protagonist - daredevil photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) - spies upon the world around him. Jefferies is laid up due to a broken leg, and he has nothing better to do than snoop on his neighbors.

As such, the entire movie is told subjectively from his viewpoint, and the camera never shows anything that can’t be seen from his point of view. Many other participants become involved. These include Jefferies’ high society girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), his physical therapist Stella (Thelma Ritter), and policeman friend Lieutenant Doyle (Wendell Corey). However, almost nothing occurs that isn’t shown from Jefferies’ vantage point; it’s a tremendously subjective film that only occasionally gives us information not available to the protagonist, and even then stays with the views that he could have seen.

As the story unfolds, we get into the lives of his neighbors, at least as interpreted by Jefferies. He has to guess about a lot of their specifics, so we learn about the others mainly through his ideas. All of it seems pretty banal until the invalid wife of neighbor Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) disappears and Thorwald behaves in a suspicious manner. Jefferies believes Thorwald dispatched the Mrs. to the great beyond, and the majority of the movie involves his amateur, from-a-distance investigation of the events. Doyle remains skeptical, but Lisa and Stella are more than happy to get wrapped up in the apparent intrigue.

So was I, as Rear Window provides a slow-boiling but very compelling piece. Some will clearly find the pacing to move without enough rapidity, as Window wasn’t made with modern attention spans in mind. However, the pace creates richness that otherwise wouldn’t exist. I never felt impatient or desperate for action, as the nuances of the characters created a life and vividness that was more than satisfying.

It helps if you don’t know how the movie ends, but even when one is aware of the conclusion, the sublime execution of the film makes it a worthwhile experience. Actually, the calm tone of the program lends an even more compelling tone to it, because the whole thing seems so believable. Hitchcock never resorts to any contrived plot twists to amp up the action. Instead, the whole thing unfolds in an intriguingly realistic manner, and we can easily envision ourselves becoming part of this world.

Stewart’s “everyman” tone serves him well in the role, and his presence helps ground a character who otherwise could have become a creepy voyeur. Though some of Jefferies’ activities may be slightly unsavory, we rarely question him because of Stewart’s general earnestness. He also makes believable an attitude that many will not readily accept: he’s a man who doesn’t seem captivated by the legendary beauty of Grace Kelly. Frankly, I understood Jefferies’ lack of affection toward Lisa because she really was too perfect. She seemed like the sort who would never let a hair go out of place, and I could identify with Jefferies’ obvious glee when Lisa gets wrapped up in the deepening mystery.

It helps that Kelly created a natural arc within the character. Lisa doesn’t go from prissy fashion plate to rugged adventurer overnight, and Kelly allows for both sides of the role to come through clearly. It’s a nicely subtle and understated performance that worked well for the film. In addition, Ritter provides solid but not gratuitous comic relief, and Corey provides the necessary skepticism that keeps the piece from becoming excessively fantastic. We have to be reminded that all of Jefferies’ thoughts have been inferred and that no evidence exists, and Doyle gives us that component neatly.

While Rear Window is a very well-acted piece, and the script provides a tight framework, the ultimate success still rests on Hitchcock’s shoulders. Frankly, I find the horror antics of later films Psycho and The Birds to be more enjoyable, but Hitchcock never provided a more capable directorial tone than he did during Window.

It all goes back to the simplicity. Hitchcock communicates so much with so little effort. From the opening shots of Jefferies and his apartment - which tell us more about the character in a few seconds of footage than could have been achieved with 1000 words of exposition - to the short, concise glimpses of the neighbors, Window represents visual filmmaking at its finest. It may not be my absolute favorite Hitchcock flick, but Rear Window definitely shows the director at the top of his game.


The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus A-

Rear Window appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film was put through a much-publicized restoration that culminated in a spring 2000 theatrical reissue. I respect the work of restorers Robert Harris and James Katz, so I have to assume that Window must have been in a horrible state of disrepair prior to their intervention. While it always remained watchable, the new DVD of Rear Window presented a flawed image that clearly showed the ravages of time.

Sharpness generally presented an adequately focused and accurate picture, but this lapsed on quite a few occasions. At times the movie seemed fairly soft and fuzzy, and this problem appeared to go farther than just Hitchcock’s periodic use of “glamour photography” for Grace Kelly. Overall, the image usually stayed acceptably detailed, but I found the softness to become excessive. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, though I did notice mild edge enhancement.

Given the film’s poor upkeep over the years, it’s not surprising that print flaws caused quite a few problems. Much of the movie seemed grainy, and other defects cropped up on many occasions. I saw a number of examples of speckles, nicks, grit, and blotches throughout the film, and periodically the image would “jump” slightly. While the flaws weren’t extreme, they nonetheless became heavy at times.

Colors looked decent but could be fairly muddy. Some hues appeared a bit pale - such as Stewart’s blue pajamas - but for the most part, they tended to be excessively heavy. The movie featured a reddish tone that didn’t come across especially well. As with many of the other concerns, the colors weren’t really bad, but they appeared less than solid much of the time.

Black levels generally looked deep and dark, and contrast seemed decent. Shadow detail also was fairly clear, though some scenes came across as too heavy. I’d estimate about half of the low-light sequences should slightly excessive opacity, while the others seemed appropriately visible.

Ultimately, I had a great deal of difficulty with my review of the visual quality of Rear Window simply because I understood how flawed the original material was. However, I’ve perused many other reviews of the DVD and found their praise to be excessive. Did the image look good considering the damage done to the film? Yes - I thought the restoration was successful. However, it remained a problematic image, and I don’t feel comfortable giving a DVD a grade based on the amount of work put into the transfer. As such, while I’m pleased with the efforts of Harris and Katz et al, I have to judge the picture based on what I saw, and that resulted in an overall grade of “C”.

Also fairly average for the era was the monaural soundtrack of Rear Window. Although it improved as the movie progressed, dialogue often seemed somewhat brittle and edgy. I found all speech to appear acceptably intelligible, but I thought the lines came across as a little too rough at times. Effects also were thin, but these seemed typical of the period and presented no significant problems. Music was appropriately distant. Since almost none of this element took the form of a proper score, music really acted like another effect, and these parts sounded accurately thin and detached. Ultimately, the soundtrack seemed acceptably clear given its age, but it didn’t sound any better than that.

How did the picture and audio of this 2008 Rear Window Special Edition compare to those of the last DVD from 2005? I thought both were identical. The 2008 image might’ve been a wee bit tighter, but any differences were extremely subtle at best. Overall, both seemed to boast virtually identical visuals and sound.

This 2008 Rear Window SE includes the supplements from the prior versions along with some new components. I’ll mark exclusive elements with an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, then the piece already appeared on the prior releases.

On DVD One, we open with an *audio commentary from film historian John Fawell. He provides a running, screen-specific chat that looks at cinematic techniques, the complex set, cast and performances, themes and interpretation, music and story.

How much you like this commentary will depend on what you want from it. If you desire good introspection about the story and characters along with plenty of themes and interpretation, then you’ll enjoy the track. If you want concrete information about the flick, you’ll not go home happy. Honestly, I’d have preferred more details about the movie’s creation, especially since Fawell’s effort sags at times and the piece suffers from too much dead air. He does give us some nice insights, but I’d like better balance between interpretation and information.

Some Production Photographs appear in a separate section. These stills are presented as a running video montage. Backed by Franz Waxman’s score, the images mix advertisements with shots from the set, and the entire package lasts three minutes and eight seconds. I like the video presentation and think this program offers a nice compendium of pictures.

Two trailers appear on the DVD, both of which come from reissues of Rear Window. The first arrived in a post-Psycho re-release, while the other arrived in the mid-Eighties and also promotes the re-appearance of four other Hitchcock films. We end with some fairly detailed Production Notes.

Over on DVD Two, we start with a documentary called Rear Window Ethics. This 55-minute and eight-second program combines modern interviews with filmmakers Curtis Hanson and Peter Bogdanovich, author Robin Wood, Hitchcock’s daughter Pat, Paramount publicity director Herb Steinberg, assistant director Herbert Coleman, and actress Georgine “Miss Torso” Darcy, plus restoration supervisors Robert Harris and James Katz. Their statements are interspersed with film clips and photos from the set, and we also hear a few sound bites from an old Bogdanovich interview with Hitchcock.

All in all, this is a solid look at the creation of the film. We find a lot of good information about the production and the various participants, and we also learn about the history of the restoration. The “before and after” shots shown are questionable as the two mainly look different based on brightness, but I still enjoyed this view of the classic film and its legacy.

Another valuable video program appears next. A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes offers exactly what the title states: an interview with the writer of the script. This 13-minute and 10-second piece uses the same format found during “Ethics”: an interview combined with film clips and production photos. The only difference is that we only find one participant: Hayes. I’d assume that he gets his own featurette because his material is so good it deserved to stand on its own rather than get mixed in with the others. We get a terrific discussion of the history of the film plus a lot of great anecdotes about working with Hitchcock and the others. It’s a solid little piece that added a lot to my appreciation of the movie.

*Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master goes for 25 minutes, 11 seconds and features Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto, film critic David Sterritt, and filmmakers Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, John Carpenter, Randy Thom, Guillermo del Toro, Gary Rydstrom, Bill Pankow, Craig McKay, Mark Goldblatt, Eli Roth, and Joe Carnahan. “Eyes” looks at all the visual techniques Hitchcock used throughout his movies. The various filmmakers and others offer a fine appreciation for the work. We get a very nice dissection of the different methods and learn a lot about how Hitchcock worked his magic.

Next we locate the 23-minute and 30-second *Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock. It provides notes from Goldblatt, Friedkin, Sterritt, Thom, Rydstrom, Pankow, Hitchcock’s Music author Jack Sullivan, and filmmaker Mark Stoechinger. As implied by the title, “Barriers” offers an auditory counterpoint to “Eyes”. It digs into Hitchcock’s use of sound and music throughout his flicks. The program creates a nice complement to “Eyes” and works equally as well.

For a chat between legendary directors, we go to the 16-minute and 15-second *Hitchcock/Truffaut. This provides an audio excerpt of Francois Truffaut’s extensive 1962 interviews with Hitchcock. They discuss the adaptation of the short story, aspects of how Hitchcock tells the tale visually, characters and their behavior, and a few other elements of the production. Due to all the translation time, these Truffaut interviews tend to move slowly, and they’re not always packed with insight. Still, it’s great to hear from Hitchcock himself instead of from surrogates, and there’s enough good material to make the chat worth a listen.

Finally, we get an episode of *Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 1956’s “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret” (26:11). A mystery writer with an overactive imagination gets suspicious of his new neighbors: she thinks that Mr. Blanchard only pretends that Mrs. Blanchard is alive. She attempts to investigate and find out the truth about the mysterious Mr. Blanchard. “Secret” loses points due to Meg Mundy’s broad, silly performance as the lead. She’s in virtually every scene, and her presence grates so much that the show becomes less satisfying. Plus, the twist ending is possibly the crummiest ever found on Presents. This isn’t a good episode.

Although I was not born when Alfred Hitchcock created his greatest works - indeed, he only made three movies after my birth - I’ve been happy to check out his legacy on DVD, and 1954’s Rear Window stands with the best of his material. The film moves at a slow but compelling pace and uses simple methods to ensnare the viewer. Ultimately, it’s a very entertaining and well-executed piece. The DVD offers flawed but decent picture and sound plus some strong extras. Although the presentation of the film isn’t great, it seems to represent the best that can be done with the movie. In any case, I thought the DVD was a nice package that I heartily recommend.

This marks the third DVD release of Rear Window, and it’s the best. However, it’s not significantly superior to those that preceded it. I think all three offer virtually identical picture and audio; this one differs from its predecessors solely due to a few new extras. While those components have value, they’re not enough to make the set worth a “double dip” for fans who already have either of the earlier releases.

To rate this film, visit the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection review of REAR WINDOW

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main