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|Index||74 reviews in total|
The war years saw Hollywood's leading men unavailable - Clark Gable,
James Stewart, and many others, were otherwise occupied. At this point,
some of the better character actors stepped up to starring roles they
might not otherwise have gotten. The darkness of the war years also did
a bit to loosen the grip of the production code by allowing darker
plots than would otherwise pass inspection, but the evildoers still had
to be punished in the end. This began the trend of "film noir" -
related to their predecessors, the precodes, by examining the seedy
side of life, but emphasizing the duality of man's nature rather than
the sexual angles and the evolving roles of women and men in society as
the films of the early 30's tended to do.
"The Woman in the Window" is a great film noir starring the great Edward G. Robinson as a mild mannered New York City professor. He packs his wife and kids off to the country at the beginning of the summer as was the custom back before the days of air conditioning, and he begins his three month bachelorhood by joining two friends at his private club, one of which is D.A. Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey). Before entering his club, though, he appreciates a painting of a beautiful woman, "the woman in the window". His two friends see him staring, kid him about it, and they proceed to have a conversation in which the D.A. talks about how many cases he sees in which a small wrong step by an ordinarily law-abiding citizen leads to major crime.
The rest of the film is basically a demonstration of what the D.A. spoke about when you mix Robinson's mild professor with the actual flirtatious woman in the window (Joan Bennett), add a case of homicide in self-defense under seemingly scandalous circumstances where there is no way to prove self-defense, and finally introduce a seedy blackmailing P.I. (Dan Duryea) into the mix. The film has many twists and turns and you can feel your guts wrenching along with Robinson's as he watches the police come closer and closer to his door with every update he gets from his friend the D.A. who thinks he is just sharing an interesting case with a professor of criminology.
The end then takes a sharp turn and totally surprises you.
This film was so good that Fritz Lang followed it up the following year with an even better effort - Scarlet Street - with Robinson, Duryea, and Bennett playing similar parts as they did in this film. There's even a painting as a central plot point in this second film as well.
Fritz Lang, the praised director of German Expressionistic classics
such as Metropolis and M, moves to the other side of the Atlantic and
enters the studio system to direct this film-noir about a professor who
sees a portrait of a beautiful woman in a window and ends up in a
twisted tale of deceit, blackmail and murder. While the premise
certainly isn't new, there are some interesting things in this story.
For example, the fact that Edward G. Robinson's character continues to
blurt out tidbits that could tie him to the crime is unusual. However,
it is of my opinion that the great Robinson was terribly miscast in
Ever since he became a star in the gangster classic Little Caesar, I find it hard for him to play the type able to commit a crime and feel guilty about it. He was always better playing either a hard-boiled criminal or a tough, gritty investigator such as in Double Indemnity. Here he comes off as an idiot for getting mixed up in something so dangerous and apparently isn't capable of trying to protect his own skin. There are some nice noir touches from Lang, who experimented with the genre in Germany before it was completely explored. Still, the twist that comes in the end feels a bit too staged instead of coming from the characters' decisions. So, if you are a fan of film-noir, this is certainly worth checking out. But, don't expect it to hold a candle to films like Double Indemnity or Sunset Blvd.
The Woman In the Window is like a folk tale told in an urban film noir
context, a moral tale about temptation, yet Fritz Lang also puts his
stamp on it. We know why he was attracted to the material because
Edward G. Robinson's character, a psychology professor who opens the
film giving a lecture with hues of the mindset of murder or violence,
learns a lot about his dark side through a series of match-point
incidents. If you saw Scarlet Street, two things could happen: You
could see this and enjoy a film with the same cast, same director and
same genre, or you could be satisfied with the far superior experience
of having seen Scarlet Street.
Like in Scarlet Street, we care a great deal about Edward G. Robinson's protagonist because he is a common man. But in Scarlet Street, our sympathy is intensified, because he lets people walk all over him. We hates his awful wife. We find his job as a banker as lackluster as he does. He never quite got to paint as much as he wanted to, which becomes his weakness. In many ways, Christopher Cross in Scarlet Street is a tragic character before the film even begins. One appreciates how the stress and burden of being a doormat for everyone else molds his doings, and how the world around him is conceitedly, slowly but surely receiving their comeuppance, simply by his disentanglement. In The Woman In the Window, the suspense comes from the incidental nature of his predicaments. We the audience know what the authorities will never have any reason to know according to the law. It is a good concept, but without the darkness and superdrama of Scarlet Street.
Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea once again get the brunt of the film's utmost scenes of wickedness. Bennett, however, is not the vile and degenerate creature she was in Scarlet, which was so much more intense because hardly anyone was on our side, our side being Robinson's. Duryea, however, delivers just as well if not even better here than he did in Scarlet. He is really a master of playing the biggest jerk in the world.
The twist at the end is a device that by now has been too commonly used, but in this 1944 noir, it works despite a viewer's contemporary seasoning because it's not a cop-out ending that takes the easy way out of a tense predicament. I do not mean my comparison of this film to Scarlet Street as an indictment of flaws. Really, I mean it as a recommendation to see the very same talents occupied to a much further extent of their abilities. Overall, this predecessor to a masterpiece is quite an entertainment.
Joan Bennett reigns supreme as "The Woman in the Window", and Edward G.
Robinson is superb as the man whom she invites over to see her
sketches. Under Fritz Lang's direction, they are a magical team. I was
as captivated by their performances as they were captivated by each
other. The story, however, is somewhat of a letdown. I don't think the
flaws are enough to mar thoroughly enjoying the film; it's sad, though,
to watch an potentially extraordinary film falter. Mr. Robinson and Ms.
Bennett are greatly supported by Raymond Massey and Dan Duryea. Mr.
Duryea's supporting performance is particularity effective. Mr. Massey
is close behind (but certainly no "Colombo").
You should see "The Woman in the Window"...
******** The Woman in the Window (1944) Fritz Lang ~ Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Once I started doing these reviews on the IMDb, the first movie I came
across that had a cop-out ending like this one was 1953's "The Limping
Man" with Lloyd Bridges in the lead. I was so po'd by that ending that
I gave it a moot review with the feeling that it came off as a cheat.
Another one is 1942's "Man With Two Lives", but that one was made a bit
more entertaining by the presence of a lot of scientific looking lab
gizmos in support of a story that starts out like a sci-fi film and
then turns into a gangster flick. This time, Edward G. Robinson really
had me hooked with his predicament when right at the very end, the
museum steward wakes him up! Nooooo - you're killing me!!!!
I should have known it, Professor Wanley (Robinson) gives himself away just too many times, starting with the 'murdered' comment to District Attorney Lalor (Raymond Massey). Then, as the D.A. comments on the blood found where the body was located, Wanley shows him the scratch on his arm. Why? Later, while physically at the location where Claude Mazard was found, Wanley heads right for the exact spot, inadvertently commenting that the body was dumped at night. You know, for a college professor teaching a class on the psychological aspects of homicide, you would think he'd play his cards closer to the vest.
But in the end, it just doesn't matter, because the whole thing never happened. Reading the other reviews on this board, it seems like this little factoid was missed by four out of five viewers who think the picture was just great. I would have too if they hadn't tacked on the last couple of minutes and just let Wanley nod off in his chair just a couple of seconds late on that telephone call from Joan Bennett. Honestly, didn't you get just a little impatient with her dealing with that dial telephone?
Yeah, it was a bad way to end a film but I didn't let that deter from the fact that it was still a well made film directed by one of the all time greats and starring a great actor. Like all Fritz Lang films this was beautifully shot and the exteriors and interiors play a big function on how the film looks. Great sets and designs. Edward G. Robinson stars in this film as a college professor who meets Joan Bennett and soon gets involved in murder. Then Dan Duryea shows up to try and blackmail Bennett. Robinson never received enough credit for being able to play normal guys. He was always thought of as a tough guy but in truth he could play a multiple of diverse characters. There was criticism to Bennett playing the Femme Fatale because she was not considered the type to play a role like this but I have to defend the casting because Robinson plays a middle aged professor who is a dullard and any attractive woman would add real spice to his boring life. This is also a rare occasion for Raymond Massey to play a straight role for a change. There is two pieces of trivia I want to mention. First, Lang got all three actors (Robinson, Bennett, Duryea) to star in his next film "Scarlet Street". And secondly, two of the "Our Gang" actors appear in small roles. Robert Blake plays Robinsons son and George "Spanky" McFarland plays a boyscout who finds the body. This was a fun and enjoyable film noir mystery and even though the ending keeps this from being anything really special, its still well made and acted.
Fritz Lang was the first director I discovered when I was a child. There was a series on TV with a dozen or so of his films. What a wonderful experience to realize for the first time that there is someone responsible for a good film (and presumably for a bad one). Of course there is the script and the actors but if you watch the films you sense a kind of directing style, even though you may not know what it consists in. I have been a Fritz Lang fan ever since and fondest in my memory was The Woman in the Window with beautiful Joan Bennett. I remember being totally captured. I just lived with Edward G. Robinson through this nightmare. I was delighted to meet Joan and I panicked when I found I had just murdered this C.M. guy. And how I despised Dan Durea. (And later after coming back to real life seeing him as a door man I thought, no, this guy is in disguise. He is too evil to be a door man.) Now I just watched the film again after more than 20 years and what a disappointment it was. Somehow the film seemed slow and predictable and one dimensional and I found myself zapping to a different program. But thinking about it now, there is just nothing wrong with the movie but only with myself. What a sad thing that I (and people in general) seem to be unable nowadays to just sit through a brilliant piece of film art. It just means that I have been spoiled by too many bad films, action and pseudo psychology. Normally I think there is no use in trying to enjoy a film intellectually and it is bad if you have to find reasons why a film ought to be enjoyed. But it this case I know that I loved the film and that it is great. So there is something wrong with me. The remedy will be forcing myself to only watching film noirs for a whole month.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This story of a middle-aged man, Professor Richard Wanley, who
inadvertently gets caught up in a murder has a lot of good points. For
one thing it calls to mind the myriad of unfortunate situations an
innocent person can get involved in and promotes an understanding of
such situations. And it makes you ask what you would have done in the
circumstances. I liked the setup with Wanley being friends with the
district attorney and thus having an inside look at the investigation
that increasingly points to him as the murderer. The black and white
photography is good, but not as dramatic as in some other Fritz Lang
films, like "M."
I liked the period decor and dress.
But I had some problems. Wanley is fascinated by a portrait of a beautiful woman in a store window. Late one night while walking home he stops to admire the portrait and to speculate about the woman. Then, miraculously, the woman appears in the flesh, strikes up a conversation and invites him up to her apartment. A beautiful woman taking up with a stolid middle-aged stranger in New Your City, not very likely unless she is a hooker. Maybe that was to be inferred but not allowed to be explicitly specified in a 1940s movie, but from what is seen this inference is difficult to make.
There are many other plot points that put me off. I don't think it would be nearly so easy to kill someone with a couple of jabs to the back with a pair of scissors, particularly in such a bloodless manner. Carrying a 200 pound body around like Wanley did would be beyond his strength--a body is an awkward dead weight. As a lecturer on topics like "Some Psychological Aspects of Homicide," I think Wanley would have been smarter than to make some of the mistakes he did during the investigation. And so on.
You might say that the ending makes my complaints moot, but then you have to believe that it is possible to have such a detailed coherent dream where, in less than an hour, the dream spans several days. And I think it is a cop out when a movie involves you and then pulls the, "Oh, it was just a dream" trope.
As much as I dislike remakes, I think that this might be a good candidate for such. For example, I imagine that the scene that has the three 40-somethings sitting around proclaiming how "Men of our years have no business playing around with any adventure they can avoid," would play differently now, some seventy-five years later.
Interesting film is marred by the ending. While others find the ending
to be an unusual twist, I found it to be a cop-out.
Ed G. Robinson is a college professor who becomes directly involved in a murder after meeting the woman whose picture he becomes enamored with while staring at a window.
The professor is an amateur at crime as we see by the mistakes he makes and we are amazed at the ability of the police, led by Raymond Massey, in picking up clues. You would think for sure that Robinson and Joan Bennett, the woman he kills for, would be found out at the end.
There is a slick blackmailer who knows all the angles. It appears that Robinson and Bennett are done for and there is nothing left for Robinson to do but to commit suicide. Voila! The dream sequence ends. See Robinson run down the street like a frightened kitten when a woman asks him for a light. Come on. This could have been a thriller of a murder film. It is simply done in by the cop out ending.
Even Dorothy upon waking up in Oz would have been annoyed with this.
Overrated film-noir from revered director Fritz Lang, an adaptation by Nunnally Johnson from J.H. Wallis' book "Once Off Guard", has Edward G. Robinson playing a college professor and family man who becomes involved in a murder, desperately hoping to cover his tracks before the police close in. The cop-out ending aside, Johnson's screenplay is full of holes, silly characters and theatrics. The campus atmosphere should have been something we could relate to, but it doesn't resemble American academia at all, more like Hollywood, U.S.A. A real let-down, though Milton Krasner's cinematography isn't to blame. Lang's direction is weak, and Robinson is woefully miscast. Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea are not much better in smaller roles. *1/2 from ****
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