Rear Window (1954)

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Released 25-Jul-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of-Rear Window Ehtics (55:11)
Gallery-Art
Trailer-Trailer Compilation (6:14)
Theatrical Trailer-1.66:, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:40)
Featurette-Interview with John Michael Hayes (13:11)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1954
Running Time 109:30
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (93:18) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring James Stewart
Grace Kelly
Wendell Corey
Thelma Ritter
Raymond Burr
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Franz Waxman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Dutch
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

   I don't know about everyone else, but when it was announced that we were to get the boxed set Hitchcock Collection Volume 1, I was more than happy. After all, any collection containing the films of Alfred Hitchcock has a fair chance of including at least one of his true gems. And so it has proven. However, from the seven DVD set, there was but one new film that was going to get an individual release under the initial plans (thankfully reappraised) - and it is an absolute gem and a half: Rear Window. Exactly why is this film such a gem? After all, it is an exceedingly boring-sounding story, since it is based entirely upon one person in one room.

   Mind you, that one person is James Stewart and that one room looks out onto one of the largest and most intricate sets ever assembled for a film up to that time.

   The simple story here is of one L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies (James Stewart), a professional photographer currently recuperating from his latest exploits, which resulted in a broken leg. He is thus confined to a wheelchair and has been for six weeks, which is enough to drive any globetrotting photographer insane. All he has to do in his apartment is gaze across the courtyard into a neighbouring apartment block - which actually proves rather interesting. There he finds: Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy), a dancer prone to doing some exotic dances in minimal clothing; Miss Hearing Aid (Jesslyn Fax), a modern artist who seems to have some weird artistic ideas; a newly married couple (Rand Harper, Havis Davenport), who keep to themselves through the simple expediency of the young bride's insatiable sexual appetite; a couple (Sara Berner, Frank Casey) with a penchant for sleeping on the fire escape for heat relief; Miss Lonely Heart (Judith Evelyn) who does all sorts of things in her place; a songwriter with a serious lack of inspiration (Ross Bagdasarian); and a costume jewelry salesman, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his wife Ann (Irene Winston).

   It really is interesting stuff that these ordinary people get up to, for it completely distracts Jeff, even when he is visited by his gorgeous girlfriend Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly). Indeed, the fascination with the next door neighbours' lives is seriously jeopardising the likelihood of him ever marrying the lovely Lisa. Well, that and the fact that he thinks she is far too good for him and totally unsuited to the life of globetrotting and living out of a suitcase. Which of course totally mystifies his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), who rightly sees Lisa as the epitome of every man's dreams. Well, that and the fact that Lisa is madly in love with him.

   As the story slowly unfolds, it becomes apparent that skullduggery is afoot in the apartment block and even though confined to his room and his wheelchair, through his voyeuristic peeping Jeff has to prove that Lars may have actually murdered his dear wife Ann. He attempts to do so with minimal input from Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), former war time pilot for Jeff and now one of New York's finest. Slowly but surely though, both Lisa and Stella come to agree with his point of view and jump in to assist Jeff. The rest is only divulged by watching the film!

   Rear Window is a rare film in that it displays excellence in just about every way. It begins with a fantastic screenplay that was enormously detailed and brought every necessary nuance to the subjective point of view that is the basis of the film. In fact, about the only problem I have with the entire screenplay is the fact that not even Hitch could convince me that the goings on next door hold more attraction than Grace Kelly... But even beyond a great story, you need even more excellence. That comes in spades with a terrific cast. James Stewart starred in quite a few films for Hitch for the simple reason that he was so darned good. He is here in what must have been a difficult role, just sitting around in a wheelchair with his leg stuck up in a cast. The quality of his performance is demonstrated in the nuances, and none is better than the look of relief as he relieves the itches caused by the plaster cast. The beautiful Grace Kelly had previously starred in Dial M For Murder (the preceding film to Rear Window, and she would appear in the immediate follow-up To Catch A Thief), but this is an infinitely better performance - although blessed with one of the most memorable introductions of all times. Grace Kelly really was one of the true beauties of the screen and this really demonstrates that in abundance. Thelma Ritter brought a wonderful comedic sense to her role as the nurse coming in to look after Jeff, and is perhaps the most memorable performance here. But across the entire film, there is a distinct ring of quality in the performances.

   Then, you have the whole thing set on one of the best sets ever created. The story of how it was created is fascinating, as detailed in the making-of featurette, and the way it looks on screen is superbly convincing. It completely reinforces the peeping tom/voyeuristic nature of what Jeff is doing, and takes us right inside the private lives of the characters inhabiting the apartment block. Then you add in the classic touches of Alfred Hitchcock, even down to some of the nice little comic touches that raise a grin here and there. The result is a gem of a film that even today manages to maintain a grip upon you. It is for these reasons that Rear Window is such a highly rated film - appearances in the American Film Institute Top 100 Films of the century and Internet Movie Database Top 250 Films (currently at number 14) amongst them.

   You want excellence in film? It is very difficult to go past one of the very best films from one of the very best directors of all time. If you want rubbish, then I respectfully suggest that you look elsewhere, amongst more recent films. Rear Window is a strongly recommended purchase.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    It is important to understand that Rear Window, along with Rope, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo, is one of the films acquired by Universal from Paramount in the early 1980s. When these films finally got into the hands of the restoration team of Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, they were in pretty diabolical condition. Indeed, the damage that had been inflicted upon this film is quite staggering, to the extent that many sections were suffering almost terminal damage. The efforts required to get this film restored, briefly touched upon in the featurette, are quite amazing and the result is very good. However, this is by no means a perfect restoration and nor should we realistically expect a perfect restoration. In comparison with other restorations seen (notably Vertigo), this is perhaps not quite as good. Despite that, however, this is still a fine restoration in most respects. You might however be interested in the review of the Region 1 version of the film on The Big Picture DVD - it does explain some of the apparent inconsistencies in the transfer, which appear to have carried over to the Region 4 release.

    The transfer is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. People with non-overscanning display devices will notice the slight mail-slotting required to achieve this aspect ratio (the preferred presentation method for 1.66:1 transfers).

    It may be forty seven years old, and may have been brought back from virtual film death, but what we have gotten in the way of a transfer is remarkably good. It is generally quite sharp throughout, with just a few odd lapses that are readily accepted given the age of the source material. Detail is very good throughout - perhaps too good, as some of the background looks distinctly unreal! There is certainly nothing missed in the whole narrow confines of the courtyard viewed from Jeff's small apartment. Shadow detail is perhaps the one place where the film shows it age - it is not the best, but certainly is no worse than would be expected for a film of this sort of vintage. Clarity was generally good throughout, but there is a degree of grain present throughout the film. It is noticeably poorer towards the start of the film, and improves quickly thereafter. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    One of the features of the restoration has been to bring the saturation level of the colours up, and the result is what I call the typical Technicolor look of the period - a tendency to oversaturation at times. Certainly, some of the building shots exhibit a slightly too saturated look in my view that is not quite natural, but overall this is a very believable transfer. It should be noted that there are inconsistencies in the colours (see the colour "pulsating" at around the 89:00 minute mark as an example), which are the result of source material degradation which the restoration process could not completely overcome. The earlier part of the film has a slight tendency towards oversaturation, but nothing really extreme and at times throughout the film there are some issues with the skin tones, but I would not call these at all distracting. There does not appear to be any problem with colour bleed in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, apart from a loss of resolution in pan shots. I would suspect that these are more the result of deficiencies in the source material rather than mastering problems. Apart from some quite minor shimmer issues during the earlier parts of the film, there did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. There was one instance of some jitter around 47:19, but this is unlikely to have been caused by the telecine process as it is up-down, not side-to-side. Despite the extensive restoration, this is still not a completely clean transfer at all, although it has to be admitted that none of the remaining artefacts are really that distracting.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 93:18. This is just at a scene change, but due to the presence of music is just a little too obvious and disruptive to the film. I feel that the layer change could have been placed a little earlier without creating any such issue.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two soundtracks are on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. I listened only to the English soundtrack.

    The dialogue comes up reasonably clear and easy to understand in the transfer. There did not appear to be any serious audio sync problems with the transfer.

    The original musical score for the film comes from Franz Waxman, another of the great names from the pre- and post-war period. This is a really good score and deserving of an isolated music soundtrack, simply to demonstrate how the music propelled a film which lacks a lot of the sound effects trickery of most films. Silence is effectively used by Alfred Hitchcock once again, a fact that seems to be continually missed by modern directors.

    There is definitely nothing too memorable about the soundtrack on offer here. It does its job fairly well in conveying the dialogue, but just every so often you felt that that a nice surround encoded soundtrack would have done an even better job of conveying the feeling of the film. Even so, the quality of the original material still shines through and there is reasonably appropriate distance in the sound to emphasise the strong subjective point of view of Jeff. Thankfully free of any major distortions, this obviously has no contribution from the surround and bass channels.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    A nice extras package has been put together by Universal for this release. I would STRONGLY advise you to watch the film before watching the supplemental material, for it does contain major plot spoilers.

Menu

    Whilst they are 16x9 enhanced, and the main menu does come with audio enhancement, the theming is only decent albeit consistent with the other new releases in the collection. Decent enough without being truly spectacular.

Featurette - Rear Window Ethics: The Making Of Rear Window (55:11)

    Featuring interviews with some of the crew members involved in the film, and with film makers like Peter Bogdanovich and Curtis Hanson, this recent effort (made last year) is quite an interesting voyage through the making of the film. It also contains some audio bites from an interview with Alfred Hitchcock himself, which are suitably disparaging at times and indicate the rather dry sense of humour of the man. The featurette concludes with a look at the restoration process, including some before and after comparisons that to my mind indicate a much more distinct difference that is actually the case with the after comparisons. Presented in a Full Frame format, with film excerpts at their correct ratio, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is a very good featurette overall and well worth indulging in after watching the film.

Featurette - Screenwriter John Michael Hayes On Rear Window (13:11)

    This is a somewhat different perspective upon the film and really was deserving of far greater length than it was given. He has some interesting observations to make and overall this was well worth the effort of watching. It too is presented in a Full Frame format, with film excerpts at their correct ratio, is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Gallery - Art

    Comprising 45 stills of publicity and behind-the-scenes photographs together with poster work for the film, they are all unannotated. Whilst decent enough quality, a bit of indication as to what we are looking at would not have gone astray. It would also have helped if some of the posters were not slightly cropped in the presentation. The quality is quite excellent as befits its recent origin.

Trailer - Trailer Compilation (6:14)

    Narrated by James Stewart, this is an extended promotional effort for the five films acquired from Paramount by Universal, duly restored and reissued in the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, it is blessed with some oversaturation of the red credits, as well as some noticeable dot crawl. The presentation is in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The quality is pretty good overall.

Theatrical Trailer (2:40)

    Another slightly different approach to promotion of an Alfred Hitchcock film, albeit for the re-release of the film in 1962, it really is showing its age somewhat. As such, it provides a good indication of what the unrestored film would have generally looked like, with its slightly washed-out colours. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version misses out on:

    The Region 4 version misses out on:

    Unless you desperately need the DVD-ROM features, there is nothing really different between the two versions, and judging upon the reviews sighted there is a degree of similarity in the transfers. Probably call this one even.

Summary

    Rear Window is one of Alfred Hitchcock's crowning achievements from his last great creative period. Given the apparently dreadful state of the film prior to restoration, it is doubtful that it has looked this good in years. Despite the odd blemishes here and there, this is overall a quite decent transfer in every respect and the presentation has been enhanced by some quality extras that add significantly to the enjoyment and understanding of this great film. If you do not want to extend to the full seven DVD collection, then you should certainly be adding this single DVD to your collection.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, July 02, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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