With their gloriously detailed restoration projects, preservation experts Robert Harris and James Katz have always distinguished themselves by giving moviegoers a new experience with an acknowledged classic. From the crystalline 70mm images of Lawrence Of Arabia to the previously excised "oyster" scene between Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis in Spartacus, to the startlingly vivid sound and Technicolor picture in Vertigo, many revelations have come as a result of their painstaking labor. Given this reputation, some may be disappointed that their new reissue of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 masterpiece Rear Window isn't noticeably different from other versions. But in order to fully appreciate Harris and Katz's efforts, it's important to note just how close the film was to extinction. Damaged almost beyond repair from poor storage and overprinting, Rear Window arrived at the Universal archives with a faded original camera negative and an unusable optical soundtrack. Thanks to the restoration team, film lovers won't have to consider the tragic ironies of losing perhaps the single greatest metaphor for the cinema ever made. Opening with a memorable shot of blinds rolling up like curtains on a screen, Hitchcock plants laid-up photojournalist James Stewart in a wheelchair facing a courtyard of open windows. Confined all day to his stuffy two-room apartment, Stewart passes the time by peering into his neighbor's private lives, a growing obsession that doesn't please his "too-perfect" girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly. But the suspicious behavior of a salesman (Raymond Burr) who may or may not have killed his wife convinces the pair to do some sleuthing. Hitchcock proves again to be "The Master Of Suspense," but in Rear Window—and much of his other work, for that matter—he's the master of a lot more than that. Witness, for example, his suggestive use of offscreen space to piece together a murder without showing a single violent act. Or the subtle erotic charge that finally hits Stewart once Kelly leaves the apartment and crosses over into his voyeuristic gaze. Or the film's witty commentary on the fundamental oddities of human behavior. In its perfect fusion of popular entertainment and high art, Rear Window ranks among Hitchcock's best.
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