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The Window (1949)
Director: Ted Tetzlaff (Notorious (director of photography) Writers: Mel Dinelli (screenplay), Cornell Woolrich (based on his story "The Boy Cried Murder") Cinematography by Robert De Grasse & William O. Steiner. Stars: Bobby Driscoll, Ruth Roman, Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, and Paul Stewart.
A unique Noir Thriller. A Family Noir. A Kid's Noir. But not just any kid, the kid who was a denizen of an decaying urban rat warren in a city that was constantly regenerating. A city before the Manhattan el's were torn down, before TV, before air-conditioning, where clothes were dried on clothes lines, where playgrounds were winding back alleys, tar beach roof tops, jungle jim fire escapes, and condemned buildings that became, clubhouses, forts or whatever you may imagine. The real habitats of urban man circa 1948, apartment - street, hall - alley, sidewalk - pavement, steel - earth, inside - outside, light - dark.
What really hits home with this film is its realistic telling of the tale from Tommy's POV (Bobby Driscoll). Any viewer with an urban background will find some touchstones to his own childhood or to the childhood stories of his parents. I still remember trying to sleep on hot, humid summer nights, in a second story apartment, where, thanks to a corner bedroom and two open windows any slight cross breeze brought relief. But it also provided the city lullabies of traffic, distant and near, the rattle of the Connecting RR winding off the Hell Gate Bridge, the faint roar of the sunken Grand Central. Nature provided the rustle of a sycamore from a breeze or the patter of rain on it's leaves. My best friend who lived in a bigger apartment house actually did sleep out on the fire escape to cool off with an el down the block.
The film begins brilliantly with one of Tommy's fantasies instantly drawing us in to his world.
We see a condemned building, we see black window, lying face down, we see Tommy. He awakens looking somewhat in pain, clutching his chest. A child in distress. Crawling forward he grabs a cap gun and we are brought to reality. Tommy is fantasizing, playing/acting out, a "shot" cowboy crawling in a hayloft to the hay-door from where he spots the "gang" playing cards. He shoots and his older buddies ignore him, a new game has replaced the one Tommy was still playing, and a fire truck siren from the street trumps even that.
As Tommy makes his way to his street urchin buddies we follow the relatively benign, maze like, cinematic urban landscape that duplicates in reverse a final reckoning that, taking place in the dead of night, turns it all very noir-ish and frightening, murderous silhouettes on window shades, illumination stabbed by slanting shadows.
The city, especially in this film, is given equal billing. William O. Steiner (cinematography) a native New Yorker along with two of the three assistant directors, informs the visual compositions with a loving and knowing familiarity. Interiors (studio probably) Art Direction by Italian born Sam Corso, native New Yorker Albert S. D'Agostino and Kansian Walter E. Keller looks flawless.
All performances are top notch. Bobby Driscoll was incredibly talented. He's thoroughly believable as Tommy. All his interactions and reactions with his peers, with his parents especially his father Ed (Arthur Kennedy), with his neighbors, and with the police, as he tries to convince them that he's telling the truth ring clear. Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy are excellent as Tommy's doubting parents ratcheting up the tension/horror level every time they attempt to reason with or placate Tommy's accusations with the kind of statements most parents faced with the same situation would make. They even make Tommy confront the upstairs neighbors the Kellerson's. Joe Kellerson and Jean Kellerson are one of the most despicable couples in noir. Their grift is for looker Jean (Ruth Roman) to lure single men to their apartment, probably for sex, where she slips them knockout drops, Joe (Paul Stewart) then rolls them for their doe and dumps them in an alley.
On a hot & humid night Tommy can't sleep, he wakes his mother Mary Woodry, (Barbara Hale) and asks if he can sleep out on the fire escape where it would be cooler, she says sure but be careful. Laying out in the sweltering evening with his pillow Tommy sees the towels hanging from the Kellerson's clothesline billow in a breeze, a breeze that doesn't reach down enough to give Tommy relief, so like any resourceful kid, Tommy grabs his pillow and climbs up to the Kellerson's landing to fall asleep there. He's awakened both by a shaft of light spilling across his face from the space between the bottom of a pull shade and the window sill, and the sounds of a grift going murderously wrong. Its a beautifully filmed sequence where the action is obscured, partially silhouetted by the shade and vividly focused through the slot.
Though I've never read the Cornell Woolrich short story I have read that the story is even gorier. Lots of great sequences, watch for the police station cat. The original music score by Roy Webb even includes a leitmotif for Tommy. Great New York Noir 10/10
Young Bobby Driscoll (Tommy) makes up stories to his friends and to his
parents. One night, he sleeps on the fire escape outside the apartment
of Paul Stewart (Mr Kellerson) and Ruth Roman (Mrs Kellerson) where he
witnesses them commit a murder. When he tells his parents Arthur
Kennedy and Barbara Hale about it, they dismiss him. In fact, they
punish him. Even the police don't believe him when he reports the
murder to them. Poor kid. No-one believes him. It's not long before
Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman find out that he knows something and set a
plan in motion to silence him.
There are many tense scenes as Driscoll faces his nightmare all alone. The audience shares his fear as the killers have him next on their list. The acting is realistic as is the dialogue. The film also has eerie sections (eg, Ruth Roman outside Driscoll's window with a torch as he hides in his locked room) and dramatic moments (eg, when the killers kidnap Driscoll and put him in the back of a cab and they encounter a policeman). The strategy that Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman use to shut him up during the cab ride is genius. It's very funny and demonstrates perfect teamwork.
Children are usually annoying in films. Not here. A dramatic ending in a disused apartment block adds to the tension. Worth watching again. The way the movie is filmed and the location all add to the experience of a film that is actually quite scary in parts.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on William Irish's (aka Cornell Woolrich) remarkable short story
" fire escape" ,this is some kind of "rear window" seen through a
child's eye ;everybody knows that Woolrich also wrote the novel which
provides Hitchcock with one of his best screenplays (and movie).With a
much more modest budget,without very big stars (Arthur Kennedy and Ruth
Roman were young at the time),"the window" compares favorably with the
The differences between the short story and the movie are minimal :the names were slightly changed (Charlie "buddy" becomes Tommy and the Kellerman are the Kellerson -because the villain's name sounded too Jewish?-;the telegram is a true one ;the chase in the streets is shortened ,probably because it' s a black and white movie,and Woolrich's depictions and his stunning use of the red and green lights were impossible to film .The Kellerson woman shows some compassion when her husband wants to push Tommy off the roof :attractive elegant Ruth Roman is ,among the cast ,the weakest link :she was on the paper a rather crude heavily made-up woman the boy "did not find pretty"
But the rest of the cast is exactly as Woolrich depicts them :Bobby Driscoll always acts naturally and Barbara Hale is the mom everybody would like to have.Aesop's lines ,which open the movie,and which everybody knows ,have never been so relevant.A fine film noir,with a splendid use of shadows and lights and buildings near decay.
Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll and Paul
Stewart star in "The Window," a 1949 film.
In a takeoff of the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Tommy Woodry is an only child with a very active imagination. He is known among his friends and parents as being a teller of tall tales. One night, it's so hot in their New York apartment that Tommy goes onto the fire escape to sleep. There, seeing in the next apartment, he witnesses a murder. The problem is, no one believes him. Except the killers.
Good nail-biter with lots of references to corporal punishment for kids, which was common back then. It's plenty of violence, too, as well as a dramatic ending.
Arthur Kennedy was one of the most underrated actors in show business - though this is a good film, it's a small one, and he deserved something with a higher profile. Barbara Hale, just a few years later would achieve TV immortality as Della Street, Perry Mason's secretary. At 27, Ruth Roman makes an impression as Mrs. Kellerton, who was involved in the killing. She's both beautiful and frightened.
The actor who plays the little boy, Bobby Driscoll was very good and continued to work until around 1960, when drugs and a criminal record kept him from getting work. He died at 31 of heart problems, penniless and homeless.
Good movie, worth seeing.
Part of the appeal of the film noir genre has always been its ability
to freeze everyday life from the past and redisplay it faithfully to
viewers many decades later. It's one of the reasons why I enjoy the
genre so much, and "The Window" does its job better that most. If you
want to step into a time machine and see what real life was like in New
York City in the 1940s, this is the movie to see. I saw it at a local
film noir film festival, and I hope it comes out on DVD.
It's a bit jarring to see Della Street as a gritty Manhattan housewife with a coarse blue-collar husband, but it's also a lot of fun and she looks terrific. Barbara Hale is still alive as I write this, amazingly, and will turn 91 in a few weeks. At the film festival, this film was introduced by someone who had telephoned Barbara Hale and asked her for her memories of making this movie. She said the movie was supposed to take place in the summer, so the actors dressed very lightly, but it was really filmed in a much colder time of year and she remembers freezing as they shot scene after scene. Could have fooled me, the movie comes across as summery and hot with lots of sweat.
Every detail fascinated me, especially of apartment life in the 1940s: tiny rooms, closet-sized bathrooms with dwarf sinks, and kitchens that looked like airplane galleys. Dark and sinister stairwells up to dingy apartments, fire escapes and alleys, cigarettes galore, and black telephones like my grandmother used to have. Every scene is richly textured, almost as if the director knew that audiences of the distant future would be watching his movie and be mesmerized by the detailed scenery, from the local police station to the pay phone at the corner drugstore.
Others have reviewed the plot and I have nothing much to add. But I will emphasize that the plot develops along paths that I would never have predicted, and the ending will rivet you to your seat. The conclusion was deeply satisfying and caused the audience to burst into whistles and applause. Hope this movie comes out on DVD quick... it's a treasure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In its day (it was made in 1947 around the time Howard Hughes bought RKO and in his wisdom he had it shelved until, short of product in 1949, it was finally released) this must have been highly effective. Watching it today it is easy to compare it with Rear Window and watch it come off worse but Rear Window had a budget arguably 20 to 30 times that of The Window, it was shot in color, had Internationally known stars - James Stewart, Grace Kelly - plus an Internationally celebrated (albeit vastly overrated) director, Alfred Hitchcock. The irony is that both films were based on stories by William Irish/Cornell Woollrich. Okay, to rack up the tension it is necessary to have the father (Arthur Kennedy) work nights and the mother (Barbara Hale) leave the nine-year-old boy (Bobby Driscoll) alone in the apartment AFTER the two killers (Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman) on the floor above KNOW that he saw them kill the sailor. As well as this in 1949 no one was wondering aloud what a sailor was doing in a strange apartment in the first place (apart from getting rolled by Roman, that is); it's clear that Roman was a hooker, or at least had picked up the sailor and led him to believe she would have sex with him because nothing else makes sense. Chances are she and Stewart did this on a regular basis but this time it went wrong. It packs a lot into 79 minutes and the acting is, if anything, superior to that in Rear Window. Well worth the price of a DVD.
In film, there's two kinds of 'predictable'. First, there's the "I
can't believe they'd do something SO INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS!!" type. Then
there's the kind of predictable in which you know exactly what will
happen next, but the suspense still literally tears you to pieces! "The
Window" is definitely the latter and it's all the better for it.
Featuring a great, if mostly unknown cast, this should be counted among the top film noir's ever made. Starring 12 year old Bobby Driscoll, there's also noir vet Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman, Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy who's probably the best actor to ever have been Oscar nominated five times without ever having won. Directed by Ted Tetzlaff, Jr., a seasoned and previously Oscar nominated cinematographer himself, virtually every frame is a beautifully crafted black & white image of substantial texture and depth. Photographed by William O. Steiner & Robert DeGrasse, the camera-work is brilliant. The direction of the actors is just as good. Every character comes across as a real, living breathing human being (even the killers) and every actor turns in nothing less than a terrific performance.
As icing on the cake, the rundown tenement and condemned building sets are so perfect that they count as characters themselves. The climatic scene in the abandoned building is simply incredible. How they filmed such a realistic looking nail bitter of a scene in 1949 is beyond me. Today it would all be done on a computer, but not in 1949. I won't ruin it, but I felt like I was right there teetering on the edge of that failing wooden support beam about to plummet three stories along with the characters. Not a bit overdone, this particular scene is one of the best photographed, executed and outright suspenseful scenes ever put on film. And while there is a musical score, it gives way to the natural sound of the setting at key moments rather than to telegraph what's coming next.
With its terrific combination of acting, directing, writing, photography, art direction and restrained musical score, this "little" film is the complete package. At about 73 minutes in length, it's all story and not a second of fluff or padding. I'd bet the farm that if "The Window" ever gets remade they'll add at least 20-30 minutes for fear that today's audience will feel cheated by such a short running time. "The Window" was produced by RKO Studios. Great Film Noir flicks were a specialty of theirs and this is one of the very best.
Not only do I remember this little wonder of a movie, if memory serves, I think I gave it a "rave" in the L.A. Daily News way way back then. And if I didn't, it would only be because first-string critic Virginia Wright had the privilege. It wasn't so much a "noir" flick as it was a straight-on suspense effort. The climactic chase scene in the derelict tenement is one for the books. Speaking of which, I just tried to locate IMDb references to French film director Charles David, whom Universal imported to direct a Deanna Durbin vehicle, and whom she married and followed to Paris? Whatever, David also directed a minor B effort while at Universal, titled either "River Pirates" or "River . . . " something. But, again, no luck. Not surprising, considering the literal thousands of titles, but I had expected to find SOME reference via Durbin. Sigh.
This second feature film is a thriller revolving around the accusations
of a boy with a vivid imagination. Tommy witnesses a murder, but no one
will believe him because he has a reputation for exaggeration and story
Filmed in black and white, The Window does a good job of creating tension as the killers are spooked into taking action against Tommy, played by 9-year-old Bobby Driscoll. The credibility of the film depends on his performance and he does not disappoint. This film is not up to the standards of Hitchcock, but it is not far off. Fortunately, the filmmakers did not try to ratchet up the suspense by asking Bobby to emote more. Instead, they allow him to convey his fears by having him deal with the darkness and shadows of the sets. This feels more believable.
The adult actors all portray their characters well. Again, there is no over-acting here. The director does not have them express emotions beyond what normal parents would feel about a child who is lying, or beyond what the killers would feel if threatened by a youngster.
Though The Window is worth seeing, for better tales of unbelieved witnesses, see The Bedroom Window or the classic Rear Window.
I cannot understand how the upstairs neighbors could step on the boy's
pillow (going up to roof and coming down) without noticing it and
realizing someone was probably there when they committed the murder.
Also, it was strange that boy's dad did not see the boy's runaway note at all, but the neighbor seemed to see it right away.
All the actors seemed well-suited to their roles.
If Bobby did all the stairway climbing himself (likely) he did it very well and with speed appropriate to the timing of the plot.
Arthur Kennedy got many good roles over the years, but unfortunately never a signature role that could have propelled him to the top of his profession.
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