During the past few years film restorers have flung open the doors of movie studio vaults, rushing to save the fading, crumbling prints of forgotten movie classics. Too many old films are ruined by the damages of time.
In 1996, Robert Harris and James Katz restored Alfred Hitchcock’s haunting masterpiece Vertigo to its original brilliance. Now Harris and Katz have given new life to another Hitchcock classic, Rear Window.
Originally released in 1954, Rear Window is a comedic thriller in the typical Hitchcockian sense, full of morbid humor and gripping suspense. Photographer L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is stuck in his Manhattan apartment with a broken leg. To pass the time, he takes to peering out his window, watching the goings on of his quirky neighbors.
There’s Miss Lonely Hearts, an old maid who fantasizes about romantic dinners with invisible men. There’s Miss Torso, a flexible, blond ballet dancer who prances around her apartment in little more than a leotard. And there’s a composer who’s constantly at work on a musical number that provides idyllic ambience for the courtyard. Other neighbors include the Newlyweds, who always seem to have their shade pulled down, and a strange couple that sleeps on the fire escape to avoid the summer heat and lowers its dog from a third story flat with a basket and rope.
The running narratives of his neighbors amuses Jeffries. He is most intrigued by the Thorwalds, a quarreling couple across the way. When Mrs. Thorwald suddenly disappears, Jeffries thinks Mr. Thorwald (Raymond Burr) killed her. Soon he convinces his smart-mouthed physical therapist Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his on-again-off-again flame Lisa (Grace Kelly) Mr. Thorwald is a murderer. Jeffries calls his war buddy, Detective Doyle to do his investigative legwork for him, although Doyle insists that Jeffries’ imagination is getting the best of him.
Kelly plays the typical Hitchcock blonde, typified by Kim Novak in Vertigo, Janet Leigh in Psycho, and Tippi Hedren in The Birds and Marnie. Lisa is charming and beautiful, bathed in lush lights and elaborate dresses made by long-time Hitchcock costume designer Edith Head. (Not to mention, Kelly was one in a long line of Alfred’s obsessions with his blonde leading ladies.) Lisa wants to settle down with Jeffries and get him into a fashion photographer job, but he is scared of commitment and is happy with his freelance job for a magazine.
Stewart’s performance is typical of Hitchcock’s leading men: easy going, witty and furtively attractive. But here, as in Vertigo, Stewart’s character has a strange obsession – he can’t stop watching people. He does it for living. So when he’s incapacitated, he keeps in touch with society by watching through binoculars or his huge telephoto lens. The audience sees what Jeffries sees, so they are forced to participate in this oddly appealing game of voyeurism.
Hitchcock shows here how humans are inherently voyeuristic in nature. Watching the private lives of other people is eerie and fascinating.
Hitchcock twists the plot as Jeffries draws closer to the suspected killer, and the film keeps the audience anxious to the end. The film is intriguing in its ideas on watching other people and, for that matter, watching others through the medium of film.
Although no emphatic use of color is utilized in the film, like in the restored version of Vertigo, this newly rendered Rear Window offers a much cleaner, brighter picture than before. This enhanced picture quality shows off the impressive details of the film’s costume and set design. Rear Window is entertaining, both darkly funny and suspenseful, rightfully placing it among the best films of all time.
Rear Window is playing in theaters.