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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Rear Window (Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection) (1954)

"We've become a race of Peeping Toms." 
- Stella (Thelma Ritter)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: November 02, 2005

Stars: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Wendell Corey 
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 01h:54m:12s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 025192834622
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+A+A B

DVD Review

If you had to pick one film as the paradigmatic Hitchcock picture, it would probably be this one, and it's hard to think of a more perfectly crafted thriller on Hitch's or anyone else's résumé. (Let me come clean straight away, and disclose that the film's screenwriter, John Michael Hayes, was a writing teacher of mine in college, and if there's a man with more charm, talent and grace, I haven't met him.) All the necessary elements are here: big movie stars, innocents ensnared in an evil scheme that was supposed to go undetected, buckets of suspense, and loads of armchair psychoanalysis. And, on some level, it's a movie that's a meditation on the notion of moviegoing itself, on those of us who, so much of the time, like to watch.

James Stewart, Hitchcock's irreplaceable leading man, is our hero, L. B. Jeffries, a fiery front-line photojournalist done in by a crash at an auto race, leaving Jeff with a badly broken leg, and confined to a wheelchair in his Greenwich Village apartment. He's pampered by Stella (Thelma Ritter), the nurse dispatched by the insurance company to supervise Jeff's convalescence; and even more so by his astonishingly pretty girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played delightfully and in the finest haute couture by the luminous Grace Kelly. Jeff and Lisa are having their issues: he's like a caged panther looking to get back into the wild, while she wants to tame him, with a finely tailored blue flannel suit for him, and a ring on the finger for her. And wouldn't you know it, but just as she's pressing him for a proposal, he witnesses a scene of something other than marital bliss across the way: has the beleaguered salesman done away with his convalescent wife?

Jeff's injury antedates the ubiquity of television, so he spends his days catching up not on his stories, but on the goings-on of his neighbors—he might not exchange a single word with these people were he to pass them in the street, but he knows their habits, their secrets, their predilections, more about them than we know about those closest to us, probably. And as a photographer, watching others is what Jeff does for a living, so this kind of voyeurism comes naturally to him. And to Hitchcock, too, who asks us to snoop along with Jeff, no matter what we think of his intimacy issues. (Yes, we men pride ourselves on our freedom, but Jeff seems a fool not to want to trade a modicum of it for Grace Kelly.) What's going on in the courtyard reinforces what's going on in Jeff's head, and vice versa; this is also a Freudian wonderland, with the laid-up Jeff the very image of impotence, with sorry substitutes like long lenses, as the band plays on without him.

Rear Window is also a sort of valentine to its time—in these days of ruthless HMOs, for instance, can you even imagine getting a massage and a sandwich prepared for you by an insurance company nurse? And the portrait of Jeff's neighborhood is very Jane Jacobs, too, presenting the sort of socioeconomic heterogeneity in a single block that's a distant memory now for most of Manhattan. (Jeff's apartment would long ago have gone co-op, and would set you back $2 million easily, and the courtyard garden no doubt would have been plowed under for the air rights.) It features many of the finest artisans at the time working at the top of their craft as well—not just Hitch and Hayes, but Franz Waxman's score is moody and unnerving, and Edith Head's diaphanous gowns for Kelly are as fine and appropriate as the perfectly rumpled pajamas with which she's outfitted Stewart.

You could argue, too, that this movie is the finest hour for almost everyone in its cast. As Jeff, Stewart is both the standup hero we've come to know and the unhinged obsessive that lurks behind almost all of his performances. Kelly isn't just a pretty face, either, making Lisa more than just a doll or a husband hunter, and Ritter humanizes a character that in other hands would seem like nothing more than a clumsy expository device. A good word, too, for Raymond Burr, as the hunched and secretive salesman, Lars Thorwald—there's a certain irony that for years it was he, as Ironside, confined onscreen to a wheelchair, and here he's undone by a sleuth that would make Ironside proud. 

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film received a much-needed restoration prior to a theatrical re-release, and the same sort of care was lavished on this transfer, which is really a paragon of the kind, The palette shimmers and the skin tones are true, providing as much eye candy as food for thought.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio may not startle in quite the same way that the picture does, but everything sounds just fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Boxed Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Rear Window Ethics (55m:09s) is less a philosophy seminar, and more a look at the film's production and restoration. Featured are Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, the director's daughter; Curtis Hanson, who paid his respects to this movie with The Bedroom Window; and Peter Bogdanovich, who relates some great Hitchcock anecdotes, and plays some audio of his interviews with the director. James A. Katz and Robert A. Harris discuss their stellar effort supervising the restoration, and especially welcome is a cameo from Georgine Darcy, who, as Miss Torso, got more than her share of glances from Jeff and the men in the audience. A conversation (13m:11s) with Hayes shows him to be a marvelous raconteur, relating how he got the job over a drunken dinner with the director. A selection of still images (03m:07s) includes publicity shots and international posters; the production notes are brief; one trailer is for a re-release of the film in the 1960s, and the second, narrated by Stewart, is for the quintet of films that had been held back for a number of years by the Hitchcock estate to increase their market value. This disc is essentially a repackaged version of a previous release, though it lacks the original disc's DVD-ROM content, which included access to Hayes' paradigmatic screenplay.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

If there's a better movie than Rear Window, by Alfred Hitchcock or anybody else, I haven't seen it. It's exquisitely told and psychologically rich—the movie looks terrific on this DVD, and the extras are generous. You might want to draw the curtains before you pop it in the player, though, because you never know who may be watching.


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