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I just finished watching this film, and quite thoroughly enjoyed it. I
won't reiterate what's already been said by many about its strengths. I
just want to offer a different opinion on the ending (without actually
divulging any of the content of the ending).
I liked the ending. It took my by surprise, and I think, all in all, fit very very well with the way the movie laid itself out. But I can understand why some people might not like it. But to such people I would point out: the ending is almost optional. Because of the way it's structured, you can, if you choose and prefer, basically just ignore the ending, and treat the movie as finished at the point you believe it ought to have been. Rather the way one watches an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and then rather ignores Hitchcock's final explanation of how the killer eventually got caught.
I don't want to say too much more because I really don't want to spoil the film for anyone who hasn't seen it. I thought it was excellent.
I don't hold Lang in particularly high esteem, he has a bit of a rough
hand for my taste. But he's one of few who can claim they invented noir
as far back as the silent era, or laid all the groundwork for others to
decorate with shadows and dames, so I will watch anything he does in
this field with some interest.
This is a very taut thing to say the least, a thriller par excellance. It has all the hallmarks; concentrated space, unfolds in real time, simple but smart setups of the bomb ticking beneath the table, to quote from Hitchcock.
So it's not just that the noir schmuck has to sneak out of town with a corpse on his backseat, across empty streets at night, while omens abound everywhere he looks. He's also the most unlikely guy to ever find himself in this situation, a quaint college professor who had one drink too much with the wrong woman. And this explains perhaps why it's no more well known, say on par with Hitchcock. Edward Robinson is short, stocky, mousy, just perfect for the occasion but really far from the ideal leading man, Joan Bennett on the other hand is beautiful and fragile but is neither as radiant as a Gene Tierney.
The main idea is twofold tension; on one hand the culprit is kept up to date every step of the investigation leading back to him, because his friend is the DA, on the other hand police are looking for who's in plain sight of them all this time. It works, even as a few of the slip-ups come across as forced and because we need the noose to tighten fast.
But there is something else here that deserves mention. Oh, the final twist spells it out for us, but an observant viewer will have noted what goes on as soon as the professor is asleep and meets the woman in the picture.
Between sleeps, we have a deliciously moral anxiety; a nightmare that vividly steers a middle-aged man away from desire that his friends openly indulge in, and no doubt he would as well, and back into social order.
Oh, the message is stridently cautionary as was customary in Hollywood, even if a bit humorous. Watch Jacques Rivette's Celine and Julie for the same motif - the mind asleep - improvised with more breath and soul.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I expect a lot of hookers went hungry after this cautionary tale was
released. It's enough to frighten most any philandering husband into
permanent fidelity. Because once the screenplay finishes with Prof.
Wanley (Robinson), he's not even going to think about straying, blonde,
brunette, or redhead. And that controversial ending is especially
effective at driving the point home.
I like the way the screenplay makes use of "doubles". After all, a part of the professor peels off in his dream and has the romantic adventure the real guy can only fantasize about. At the same time, the sexy portrait peels off into the "real" woman such that the two doubles meet in a twilight world of fantasy.
No wonder the professor is restive. He's a highly respectable family man in a highly respectable profession with highly respectable friends, undergoing what we would now call a mid-life crisis. His body may feel trapped, but his imagination isn't.
And get a load of Bennettshe's one delectable package, especially in that clinging gown. She's certainly no streetwalker, more like a kept-woman with a list of prestigious clients. Note how the Production Code screenplay stays vague about her means of support. Still, she and her ritzy apartment are just the kind of set-up a guy like Wanley (note that the name begins with 'wan') would dream about, that is, until things get out of hand.
The middle part sags a bit as police procedure takes over, and the prof's conscience begins to drop hints to the authorities. It's clear, even then, that not even his double can escape the respectable man himself, as the climax reaffirms.
But that showdown between Bennett and Duryea amounts to a little gem of scripting and acting. It's a cat and mouse contest all the way, except it's unclear which is which. Bennett is so good at being a silken conniver, while Duryea is the last word in slimy schemer. Watching them maneuver is fascinating, and in my book, the movie's high point.
What a fine turn by Robinson as the under-stated professor. Hard to believe his unimposing figure could also snarl with the best of them, e.g. Little Caesar (1930). Here, his homely little man yearning beyond respectability is so believable. For that matter, so is the nightmarish lesson he's taught himself. As a result, when he runs from the blonde streetwalker at movie's end, I expect more than a few guys were running with him.
All in all, if Family Council Oscars were given out, this crafty screenplay would deserve a big one. More importantly, the 90-minutes amounts to a darn good film noir.
The lead character, Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson), is a
middle-age absent-minded professor who teaches a course in crime. For
relaxation he meets with two other middle-age men for drinks and
academic conversation. Surrounded by books and dim light, the three men
talk about how stodgy their lives are, how averse they are to
adventure, and how alluring the woman is whose portrait they see in a
nearby shop's window.
Says Richard to his two friends: "you know, even if the spirit of adventure should rise up before me and beckon, even in the form of that alluring young woman in the window next door, I'm afraid all I'd do is clutch my coat a little tighter, mutter something idiotic, and run like the devil."
This story setup, with quiet, reflective, sedentary characters, gives the film's surprise ending credibility. With a different setup, with different characters, the film's ending, as is, would be an act of creative malfeasance. But here, it works.
And Richard's excellent adventure is spellbinding. Tension is maximized because we, as viewers, are put directly in the point of view of Richard and his predicament. What would we do in such a situation? How would we react?
I wouldn't have cast Edward G. Robinson in the lead role. But he certainly does a nice job. So does Joan Bennett, as the woman in the window. The film's plot is tight, except in the second half, in a couple of sequences involving a blackmailer.
"The Woman In The Window" is a clever, well-written, character driven story about a man whose infatuation with a beautiful woman's portrait drives him into a dangerous adventure. Once the viewer has seen the ending, the power of the plot vanishes. But even then, that ending is still thought-provoking.
I still find this one amazingly enjoyable after umpteen viewings now
I mean, once you've seen it and know how it ends it shouldn't really
still spark, should it? But it does. Probably because the dignified
exploration and expert delineation of its subject and characters
coupled with a languid noir atmosphere that even the colourised (and
the best I've ever seen too) version couldn't destroy keeps bringing me
back to it.
Middle aged staid professor (Robinson) sees a beautiful young hooker (Bennett) by her reflection in art gallery window and they get talking. After a few drinks she says she has no designs on him and invites him back to her place at ten past midnight and of course one thing leads to another the brutal murder of her enraged boyfriend in self defence and their amateurish attempts to conceal it from the cops and then a blackmailer. How a very respectable elderly man finds himself suddenly thrust into this position and his probable mental processes was lugubriously but believably portrayed by Robinson in one of his best ever performances. Gorgeous Bennett (and her gorgeous apartment too) was suitably high class and low key for the Hays Office and she seemed to take everything that happened good or bad in her stride. Raymond Massey played the incisive DA whose suspicions were gradually rising as regards his bumbling friend, and Dan Duryea as usual excellently played a nasty piece of work.
The fatalistic mood Lang imbued here make this a unique film even if held up against his inferior remix Scarlet Street, both well worth watching again and again.
When I first saw this film in 1945, the ending I felt was a cop-out due to censorship of the time. However, when I read the book, it does end almost the same as the movie. Won't say what it is, it will spoil it for the first time viewer. If you get a chance to see this film, don't miss it. Edward G. Robinson was a fine actor and this is one of his best parts, that of a man in mid-life. Joan Bennett fit the bill, a beauty even with Hedy LaMarrs hair. If you want to see the change in this beauty, look for the film, "TradeWinds"; where she went from blonde to dark. The rest of the cast do a fine job, and the direction was first class by Fritz Lang, who I believe was married to Joan Bennett at the time. Fact of the matter, I think I remember a bit of gossip about this marriage
The catastrophe just around the corner is the premise for Fritz Lang's first
unabashed film noir. Settling stuffily into middle age, Edward G. Robinson
lectures on criminal psychology at Gotham University (est. 1828). One
morning he packs his wife and kids onto the train for a summer in Maine,
then repairs to his club for dinner, a brandy or two, and a comfortable
snooze in a wing-chair.
A portrait in a gallery next door had caught his attention, however, so before heading home he gives it a second glance. Suddenly its beautiful subject (Joan Bennett) looms up behind him, reflected in the glass. They flirt rather formally, stop for a drink, then head back to her apartment under the pretext of viewing more of the artist's work she'd posed for. Suddenly a man Bennett has seeing on the sly with barges in and, enraged, tries to throttle Robinson, who stabs him with scissors. And suddenly Robinson's complacent life lies in shards.
He decides, for the sake of his and Bennett's reputations, to dump the body along a stretch of rural road upstate, then part ways forever with this woman from the window. But, far from a nobody, the murdered man turns out to be a wealthy developer, whose death claims headlines. And his bodyguard (Dan Duryea) pays a visit to Bennett, to blackmail her.
A shrewd and cultivated man caught in the vise of circumstance, Robinson proves his own worst enemy. When fellow club member Raymond Massey, a police inspector, chats casually about the crime, Robinson blurts out details that only the killer could have known. And as the jaws of the vise squeeze ever more tightly, Robinson devises ever more desperate stratagems to hide his guilt and protect Bennett...
While Robinson proves reliably expert, Bennett invests her part with a reserved, almost remote, air that lends to the uncertainty. Her cool contralto beckons, but she plays hard to get. Her arrangements with her dead paramour suggest something sordid but she's not quite the tramp she would be the following year in Scarlet Street (again opposite Robinson and under Lang).
The sure-footed Lang simply uses a public clock down the street from Bennett's brownstone to log in a precise chronology of the fateful night. That befits a plot which leans toward the clockwork, but plausibly so. Or rather, does until just its last few minutes. For all intents and purposes, the movie ends, convincingly and satisfyingly, with Robinson slumped in a chair, clutching a drained glass. But MGM wasn't yet ready for the uncompromising vision of the emergent noir cycle, and must have recoiled in horror. So a whimsical wrap-up was hastily grafted on. Some would argue that, in consequence, the movie falls into the valid subcategory of `oneiric' noir. Others would argue that it's just a craven cop-out, at cross purposes with all that's gone before. Luckily, The Woman in the Window displays enough artistry and integrity that it really doesn't matter all that much either way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fritz Lang had always thought that man was a potential criminal.He ran the whole gamut,showing psychokillers (M),who killed because they could not help it,neurotics ("secret beyond the door")who could easily act ,and the guy next door who could be part of the club too.
Edward G.Robinson's character belongs to the third category.He's a good-natured professor,whom we will never suspect.He's caught up in the system and we wonder how he will get away with it.Some users will tell Lang takes the easy way with is long dream.But nobody,in 1999,complained about "The sixth sense" ending!The most important thing,for Fritz Land is that the man bears in mind (or in subconscious)the idea of murder.In "M",Lang showed a "real" trial-Lorre tried for muredr by the populace-,in "secret beyond the door" he would show,three years after "woman in the window" ,an imaginary dreamlike trial where the defendant is also the judge!
"Woman in the window" is a movie that needs to be watched twice ,like "beyond a reasonable doubt " ("when you see this 1956 movie for the first time,you pity Dana Andrews for being a chastised innocent;the second time,it's more unbearable because he carries the load of his ineluctable culpability".Jacques Lourcelles,in dictionnaire du cinéma).A lot of clues explain the final unexpected twist,and Joan Bennett's first name is not the least :ALICE!!!!;but there's also the music which becomes threatening and strange as soon as Robinson leaves his club,the way he meets the woman of his dream -a fabulous tour de force-,this recurrent picture of the clock ,the way the "victim" enters the apartment...But,like in a nightmare -and this is really one-,the hero seems to get stuck in the quicksand of its mind."Did I say murder?" "Did I say barbed wire? "Did I say poison ivy? " the prosecutor,his friend,says.Like Dana Andrews in "beyond a resonable doubt" ,our miserable hero seems to give away all the clues that may lead him to the road of ruin.All in a dream ,where you're only a witness,when you're helpless .It's amazing that all the characters of this long dream do exist in real life,even if they do not always play the same part in it.Only Joan Bennett/Alice is a pure illusion :she epitomizes the forbidden fruit and the other side of the mirror.
Needless to say,as almost every movie the great Lang made,this is an unqualified must.Alain Corneau ,when he made " Police python 357" with Yves Montand and Simone Signoret in 1975 was certainly influenced by the screenplay of "window".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS** Fritz Lang had a reputation for stalking around the set
barking orders through a megaphone, wearing breeches and riding boots
and a monacle, the last of the great cartoons. At least he got the job
done. "Woman in the Window" is pretty good noirish stuff. I say
"noir-ish" because it's missing one of the principal icons of the genre
-- the black snub-nosed .38 revolver. In it's conventional place we
have some of Fritz Lang's ideosyncratic icons -- straw hats, mirrors,
Robinson leads a rather stodgy life as an assistant professor at Gotham College. (Who is promoted to department head during the film. How do you do that?) He periodically gets together with two friends for dinner at his club, a doctor and the district attorney, Raymond Massey. One night after leaving the club he runs into Joan Bennett and accepts an invitation to her apartment. An enraged man rushes in and begins strangling Robinson who must stab him repeatedly with a pair of scissors in order to save his own life. Robinson and Bennett then weave the proverbial tangled web. Robinson disposes of the body in some woods north of New York. I should say "a densely wooded area" because that's where all dead bodies are found, including this one, by a Boy Scout who promises that if he gets the reward he will use the money to send his kid brother to Harvard and he himself will go to a GOOD college. (The script by Nunnally Johnson is intelligent and witty, one of the movie's better features.) The story is a big improvement over that of its companion piece, "Scarlet Street," if only because in the latter Robinson had to be an undiscovered genius in painting still lifes. And the paintings we see are sidesplittingly absurd. The acting and the ending in "Woman in the Window" also deserve a comment.
Robinson had more range than he's usually given credit for. One watches him in "Little Caesar," chewing the scenery, snarling, strutting, grinning idiotically, and the image is stamped on one's brain. But he could do other things as well, and sometimes quite nicely too. His last performance, in "Soylent Green," was one of his best. Joan Bennett was a competent actress, no more than that. She's not much of a femme fatale here, just ordinarily pretty. She lacks the kind of glandular ooze that someone like Gloria Grahame might have brought to the part. Raymond Massey is likewise professional. It's interesting to watch his expression change from scene to scene as he grows more suspicious of Robinson. Each time Robinson takes a step or opens his mouth he seems to drip more clues, and Massey picks up on each one, so that if his friendship with Robinson begins with a smile, it ends with a thoughtful frown. Dan Duryea is a slimier, venomous version of Bob Fosse in both appearance and movement, reed slender and sinister all the way.
The ending. It seems contrived and tacked on. It's as if someone had tapped the producers on the shoulder half-way through shooting and said you've only got ten minutes left to finish the film. So a minute after leaving Bennett's apartment, with his financial future fixed up and no charges against him, Duryea the blackmailer is told to stop by a policeman, pulls out a gun and starts shooting. The clock must have been ticking because this is completely unmotivated. It does serve the broader purpose of the story however in introducing irony. Duryea seems to have brought ruin to Robinson's life. And by the time of the shootout Robinson has already taken an overdose of something or other and is dozing off into the big sleep without knowing that his suicide is now unnecessary. (It's kind of complicated, I know, but I don't want to take up too much space except to explain that the murder committed by Robinson has now been pinned on the dead Duryea.)
But -- wait! There is a high-key closeup of Robinson's face going slack and slumping to the side. Is he dead? No -- he's asleep! A hand enters the frame and touches him on the shoulder, and someone says, "Professor, it's ten thirty." He'd fallen asleep in his chair at the club! Perhaps borrowing from "The Wizard of Oz," a shaken Robinson retrieves his coat from the man he murdered and says good-night to Duryea, the hotel doorman, before walking down the late-night street. He peers at the portrait in the window that started the whole business and a tarty woman's face appears in the reflection. She asks him for a light and he runs off, protesting, "Not on your life. Not for a million dollars!"
It's easy to make fun of a movie like this but it's actually kind of neat. Robinson is no crafty villain, and Joan Bennett appears to be an honest whore, less innocent than he but not at all evil. Everything they do is out of desperation. One feels sorry for both of them, especially Robinson who seems never to have had an impure thought. I didn't even mind the it-was-only-a-dream ending. Sure it's been done before, but it permits the film to end on a comic note, which comes as a relief after all the drama and suspense that has preceded it. Well worth watching.
A kindly middle-aged professor (Edward G. Robinson) kills a man in self-defense with the help of a beautiful model (Joan Bennett). They decide to dump the body and forget it...until a slimy blackmailer (Dan Duryea) threatens them. What will they do? Great melodrama...wonderful script, sharp performances (I've never seen Robinson or Bennett play such sympathetic characters), great atmospheric direction by Fritz Lang...but there's a real lousy twist ending that almost destroys the movie. It was put in (I assume) to appease 1940s censors, but what what a letdown! Still, it's worth seeing.
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