Saturday, February 05, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Woman in the Window (1944)

A mild-mannered psychology professor finds himself in the middle of a waking nightmare after a chance encounter with THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW.

Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) has just seen his wife and two children off for a summer holiday. After spending an evening with his friends (Raymond Massey and Edmund Breon) at a men's club, Professor Wanley is walking home when he happens to meet Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), whose portrait he'd admired in a window.

The professor agrees to have a drink with Alice, and then against his better judgment he accompanies her to her apartment. Alice's jealous lover (Arthur Loft) arrives and flies into a rage when he sees another man in her apartment. A struggle ensues, and the professor kills the man in self-defense. Rather than calling the police, the professor and Alice decide to make the entire incident go away by disposing of the body...but they soon realize that's not the end of the matter, which quickly spirals out of control.

This Fritz Lang film has great mood, with an air of suspense that's almost exquisitely painful at times. I think I may actually enjoy the film more on a future second viewing, when I know how the story turns out and I can relax and take in all the details of the storytelling more carefully. I think the development of the characters and story merit a second look understanding the full context. The movie, photographed in stark black and white by Milton Krasner, is visually beautiful, and I'd also like to observe the images more closely when I'm not quite as distracted by the tense plotline.

As always, Robinson and Bennett are excellent. Robinson is rather touching as the lonely professor, who can't quite seem to believe that a woman as beautiful as Bennett would wish to spend time with him. He reveals another side of himself as he plots to dispose of the body; I'm not quite sure I found his immediate willingness to cover up the death believable, but once I'd seen the entire film it all made sense. Bennett is gorgeous as a woman who may -- or may not -- be trustworthy.

Massey and Breon are most enjoyable in congenial performances as Robinson's friends, a district attorney and a doctor. The film also has vivid performances by Thomas E. Jackson as a police investigator and Dan Duryea as a blackmailer. The following year Duryea reunited with Lang, Robinson, and Bennett for SCARLET STREET (1945).

(Side note: the artist who created the poster with the white background, above on the left, seems to have been using Paulette Goddard as a model, rather than Joan Bennett!)

The movie runs 99 minutes. Look for Robert (Bobby) Blake as the professor's son early in the film. Arthur Space, one of my favorite character actors, has a small role as a police captain.

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW has been released on both VHS and DVD. The DVD print I watched was excellent; there are no extras.

Netflix has this movie available on DVD, as well as via instant streaming.

This film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer.

The film has been analyzed in detail by Spencer Selby at Noir of the Week; however, it should only be read by those who have already seen the film, as it contains surprise plot details.

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