Rear Window (2000 Restoration)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Wendell Corey.
MPAA Rating: PG

Review by Matt Heffernan
February 7, 2000

Just when things were at their bleakest, the cinema is saved from the winter doldrums. Hitchcock's 1954 masterpiece, Rear Window (just one of many), has now been restored by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, the men responsible for the wonderful 1996 restoration of Vertigo. As you probably know, films (especially those in color) degrade severely if they are not properly preserved. Colors fade, the film get dirty and scratched, and often the soundtrack is in poor condition. Finally, Rear Window can be seen again in all its Technicolor glory, just as it appeared in 1954 (or possibly even better).

In case you are unfamiliar with this classic, allow me to fill you in on the premise. Magazine photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries (James Stewart) is stuck in his New York apartment with a broken leg. He spends his time spying on his neighbors through his rear window. Things go awry when he notices the sudden disappearance of the invalid wife of Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr).

Thorwald's suspicious behavior leads Jeff to the conclusion that he killed his wife. Since he is unable to investigate himself, he enlists the help of his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), and police detective Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey) -- an old army buddy.

Rear Window was filmed on one big soundstage at Paramount, with the biggest set they had ever built. Hitch used this to get every shot lit precisely to his direction. He also shot virtually everything from Jeff's apartment, enhancing the prespective of the film, which makes the audience feel just as helpless as Jeff. It's really an an obvious metaphor for film, complete with all the implications of voyeurism and detachment. In all, it's a brilliant work of suspense and dark humor, and easily one of the best films ever made.

And that makes this restoration such a great thing. Aside from Vertigo, Harris and Katz have also done Spartacus, Lawrence of Arabia, and My Fair Lady. Oddly enough, Rear Window is the first 35mm film they have restored, but even with the grain of that format, it still looks beautiful. The colors are rich, and the print is extremely clean. The soundtrack for this film was definitely a challenge, since Hitch used only ambient sound from the set. There is no over-dubbed score or any foley sound effects. Yet, these extremely subtle sounds come across in perfect clarity.

For me, seeing this film was an exceptional treat. I am a huge fan of Hitchcock, but I have never before seen one of his films in the theatre. Instead, I have suffered through cheap imitations like The Bone Collector. I know that my situation is not unique, so I urge you to see this film, and continue to support the efforts of those who are working to preserve our film heritage.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Rear Window (1954)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Rear Window (1954) -- VHS
Rear Window (1954) -- DVD
The Cornell Woolrich Omnibus: Rear Window and Other Stories,
I Married a Dead Man, Waltz into Darkness
-- Paperback
Rear Window, a story by Cornell Woolrich -- Audio Cassette (read by Keir Dullea)
Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, edited by John Belton -- Hardcover
Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, edited by John Belton -- Paperback
The Art of Looking in Hitchcock's Rear Window, by Stefan Sharff -- Paperback


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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan