One of my favourite Hitchcock movies finally receives a belated solo Blu-ray release away from the expensive Hitchcock collection that came out late last year. Readers of this blog back then may recall that having pre-ordered the set months before I finally cancelled it in favour of the (frankly excellent, as it turned out) Bond 50 set (a set I’m STILL working my way through, many months later), partly due to the price of the Hitchcock set and a few scary reviews on the ‘net. Having already got Pyscho and North by Northwest on Blu, what I really wanted was Rear Window and Vertigo in HD, and I figured I’d wait for individual releases to eventually come, and miss out on some of those dodgy transfers that the secondary films apparently received.
So here we are, having had to wait a little longer than might have been expected (indeed, Vertigo still isn’t out yet, not coming until September). While Vertigo is my favourite Hitchcock film, and one of my favourite films ever, Rear Window runs a close second, and I could understand why some may even consider it the more satisfying film. Its certainly the more mainstream film, more typically ‘Master of Suspense’ Hitchcock than the rather more twisted, conflicted Hitchcock who made Vertigo.
Rear Window is a perfect mix of suspense, paranoia and devious voyeuristic thrills. On the one hand it is a deft, if deceptively simple, thriller, in which our wheelchair-bound hero idles-by the long hours watching his neighbours lives play out beyond his apartment window, only to eventually suspect that a terrible murder has taken place and that he is the only one who has noticed. Its a finely-written piece with sharp, witty dialogue, with the the usual capable acting of Jimmy Stewart and a particularly bewitching performance by the simply gorgeous Grace Kelly (how anyone can watch this film and not fall in love with her is beyond me). The whole thing is filmed on a huge sound-stage, a piece of genius production design and consummate direction by Hitchcock. Its a great movie. If that was all that Rear Window offered then it would be more than enough to be salivating over its pleasures a half-century later.
And yet- well, there is more going on here than meets the eye. Well, to be precise, its actually all about the eye. About how we ‘see’ film, the act of watching a film. It is quite deviously complex, undermining our role in watching film, and the film’s subtext on the act of watching, of how our ‘viewing’ of the film mirrors the act of ‘viewing’ that the main protagonist plays out. Indeed it forms an unspoken bond between us and Jimmy Stewart’s wheelchair- bound L. B. Jefferies. It’s incredibly clever how Jefferie’s wheelchair-bound powerlessness in the more frantic moments mirrors our own passivity in watching events in any film and never being able to change those events unfolding before us. Here we become one with the protagonist and his plight. Indeed, we ‘become’ L.B. Jefferies- he’s as trapped watching the film unfold as we are.
It’s a wonderful film and it looks excellent in HD, albeit with minor reservations. I can understand some of the mixed reviews that came out about the box-set if this is one of the better tranfers, as one might have hoped for a more fully-realised remaster but it certainly looks better here than I’ve ever seen it look on TV airings or DVD. Colours are fine and detail as sharp as you might hope, but there’s something just a little muddy about some isolated shots- perhaps its the original negative at fault here, the film-stock used or how it has been preserved over the half-century or more since it was made. But still, it does largely look rather wonderful nevertheless- perhaps my nitpicking/doubts stem from simply how excellent some older films do look on Blu-ray in comparison. Not all old films look the same, not all film-stocks and remasters are equal. But Rear Window on Blu-ray remains a great film and an important part of any fan’s HD collection- and at the price this is going for, something like just a tenner now, its really a bargain. The extras are plentiful and icing on the cake.
Just leaves me looking forward to Vertigo more than ever.