The Woman in the Window (1944)

Directed by Fritz Lang

Plot

After criminology professor Richard Wanley sends his wife and two children off on vacation, he goes to his club to meet friends. Next door, Wanley sees a striking oil portrait of Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) in a storefront window. He and his friends talk about the beautiful painting and its subject. Wanley stays at the club and reads Song of Songs. When he leaves, Wanley stops at the portrait and meets Reed, who is standing near the painting watching people watch it. Reed convinces Wanley to join her for drinks.

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Later, they go to Reed’s home, but an unexpected visit from her rich lover Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft) leads to a fight in which Wanley kills Mazard. Wanley and Reed conspire to cover up the murder, and Wanley disposes Mazard’s body in the country. However, Wanley leaves many clues, and there are a number of witnesses. One of Wanley’s friends from the club, district attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) has knowledge of the investigation, and Wanley is invited back to the crime scene, as Lalor’s friend, but not as a suspect. As the police gather more evidence, Reed is blackmailed by Heidt (Dan Duryea), a crooked ex-cop who was Mazard’s bodyguard. Reed attempts to poison Heidt with a prescription overdose when he returns the next day, but Heidt is suspicious and takes the money without drinking the drugs. Reed tells Wanley, who overdoses on the remaining prescription medicine.

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Heidt is killed in a shootout immediately after leaving Reed’s home, and police believe Heidt is Mazard’s murderer. Reed races to her home to call Wanley, who is slumped over in his chair. In an impossible match on action, Wanley awakens in his chair at his club, and he realizes the entire adventure was a dream in which employees from the club were main characters in the dream. As he steps out on the street in front of the painting, a woman asks Wanley for a light. He adamantly refuses and runs down the street.

The Woman in the Window is a 1944 film noir directed by Fritz Lang that tells the story of psychology professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) who meets and becomes enamored of a young femme fatale.MV5BMTg0MzQzMTUzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjI3NDQ0MjE@._V1_

Based on J. H. Wallis‘ novel Once Off Guard, the story features two surprise twists at the end. Scriptwriter Nunnally Johnson  founded International Pictures (his own independent production company) after writing successful films such as  The Grapes of Wrath  (1940) and other John Ford films, and chose The Woman in the Windowas its premiere project. Director Fritz Lang substituted the film’s dream ending in place of the originally scripted suicide ending, to conform with the moralistic Production Code  of the time.

The term “film noir” originated as a genre description, in part, because of this movie. The term first was applied to American films in French film magazines in 1946, the year when The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Laura (1944), Murder, My Sweet (1944), and The Woman in the Window were released in France.

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Film lovers get a window seat to great storytelling.

9/10
Author: finemot from Florida
2 January 2000

It’s hard to tell which element of “The Woman in the Window” (1944) contributes most to its excellence: script, direction, casting, performances, lighting, cinematography, scoring. So, it’s probably safe to say, “All of the above!” “TWITW” introduces us to Assoc. Prof. Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) of Gotham College, who has just seen his wife and two kids (young Robert Blake is “Dickie” Wanley) off for a two week summer vacation. Just prior to entering his men’s club, he is captivated by the portrait of a beautiful woman in the display window of a neighboring storefront.

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His club member friends, District Attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) and surgeon Dr. Barkstane (Edmond Breon) notice him staring at the portrait and indulge the temporary “bachelor professor” in some good-natured ribbing before the three enter the club for drinks and conversation. As the evenings winds down, the doctor having subscribed some medication for Prof. Wanley who has complained of fatigue, the colleagues leave. Prof. Wanley asks for a 10:30 PM call in the event that he dozes off while reading in his club chair. Upon leaving the club, Wanley again stops at the portrait; and standing behind him is the model, Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), who posed for the artist. She admits that she frequently comes to the spot to check out people’s rections to the painting. The small talk leads the two to an innocent drink at a club followed by a visit to her sumptuous apartment, where she shows Wanley other sketches by the artist.

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The intrusion of an insanely jealous lover leads to struggle, murder (in self-defense) and a quandary: How do two non-merderous strangers go about covering up a murder, disposing of a body (a large one), and manage to trust eachother in the process? The body turns out to be the type of man who warrants headlines. Wanley’s friendship with the D.A. gets him invited on a “field trip” to the spot where the body was found. Here we meet the Chief Inspector, beautifully portrayed by Thomas E. Jackson). Through a series of delightfully handled mishaps, the gentle professor manages to exhibit elements about himself which would conspire to make him a prime suspect had the very prospect not been so ludicrous. A sleazy, but extremely clever blackmailer (Dan Duryea) is introduced. How he becomes involved, we’ll leave unsaid, so as not to spoil some of the film’s outstanding storytelling. The characters are three dimensional. Massey, as the D.A. is both a condescending stuffed-shirt and a caring friend. Jackson, as the Inspector is superbly understated, an affable exterior housing a brilliant mind for detection. Bennett and Duryea are both fine, although some of the dialog between them could easily have been cut to the improvement of the film overall. Robinson is excellent as the unassuming, bright but vulnerable professor. The Nunnally Johnson-Arthur Lange script is right-on, with the noted exceptions. Director Fritz Lang has created a taut, superb suspense tale. “The Woman in the Window” could easily have had either of two endings, one tragically ironic, one concocted to satisfy audiences in search of more delectably amusing resolution. I’ll never tell. This film deserves any healthy debate about its ending every bit as much now, in the year 2000, as it did during its first release in 1944.

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