The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944) | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944)

the woman in the window review
A college professor commits murder in self defense and attempts to cover his involvement in the crime.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Fritz Lang

Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey, Dan Duryea

the woman in the window blu-ray


Looking back on the fullness of his career, we now view Edward G. Robinson as an adaptive actor who applied his talents to a variety of disparate roles. But when Fritz Lang cast him in the lead role of his 1994 noir The Woman in the Window, it was very much a case of casting against type. Robinson had to that point been familiar to cinemagoers for his portrayals of sinister tough guys - his Rico in Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar is still to this day one of the most menacing of screen mobsters.

Richard Wanley, the timid professor Robinson plays in The Woman in the Window, couldn't be further from the snarling street terror of Rico. Along with 1945's superior Scarlet Street, this is one of two thrillers the actor made with Lang in which he plays an affable middle-aged schlub whose avuncular relationship with a younger woman played by Joan Bennett leads him down a dark path. Both movies also feature Dan Duryea in the sort of trademark thug roles he so excelled in.


the woman in the window review

After seeing his wife and kids off on a vacation, Wanley remains behind in New York and meets a couple of buddies at his gentlemen's club. In the window of a gallery next to the club Wanley becomes entranced by a portrait of a young woman. This leads to a discussion between Wanley and his friends - District Attorney Frank (Raymond Massey) and Doctor Michael (Edmund Breon) - regarding their fading libidos. "The flesh is still strong but the spirit is weak," Wanley jokes. To put it crudely, the men come to an agreement that they may not have what it takes to seduce the young woman in the painting, but boy would they like to give it a go.

Remarkably, Wanley gets such a chance when he leaves the club late at night and stops to stare once again at the painting. Appearing like a mirage reflected in the window is none other than Alice (Bennett), the subject of the painting, alive and in the flesh and hitting on the speechless Wanley. The pair go for a drink and then back to Alice's pad. It requires much in the way of suspension of disbelief that this attractive young woman would be so willing to engage the older, toad-like Wanley, but then this was 1944, when strapping young bucks were in short supply (there was some sort of trouble in Europe I believe).

Back at Alice's, the conversation is interrupted by an irate man barging into the apartment. Seeing Wanley, the man pounces on him, and the ensuing scuffle ends with Wanley plunging a pair of scissors into the man's back, leaving him dead on Alice's good rug. Wanley and Alice concoct a plan to dispose of the body and cover the crime, but can these criminal amateurs keep their cool?


the woman in the window review

Any critique of The Woman in the Window must inevitably include its startling twist, so if you haven't seen the movie and wish to avoid spoilers, now is the time to stop reading.

After a series of events leads Wanley to believe he can no longer cover his tracks, the movie ends with the professor overdosing on prescription drugs. In an elaborate unbroken shot, Lang then tracks out of a close-up of Wanley's seemingly dead face to reveal that he is actually slumped asleep in his gentleman's club. As he leaves the club, Wanley interacts with various employees, all played by actors who assumed roles in his dream. It's essentially a riff on The Wizard of Oz, not the sort of ending you expect to find at the climax of an otherwise hardboiled noir, and it's proved divisive to viewers over the years. Perhaps the reason Lang opted for this ending was to allow his protagonist to get away with his crime in a manner that wouldn't draw the ire of the Hays Code, which insisted on thrillers steering clear of any suggestion that crime might pay. While it's arguably the most fascinating aspect of Lang's film, it does somewhat lessen the stakes on subsequent viewings.

Having left the Nazi regime behind when he forsake Germany for Hollywood, Lang's films in the war years veered between explicit anti-Nazi propaganda and movies in which authority figures were viewed with suspicion. There's a telling moment in The Woman in the Window where Wanley, on the way to dump the corpse, is pulled over by a cop who asks him if his name is Polish. "No, it's American," Wanley indignantly replies. Even with an incriminating corpse on his back seat, Wanley can't resist a dig at this leather clad fascist, an early hint that what we're seeing may be mere fantasy on Wanley's part.


the woman in the window review

Amid the suspense, Lang interjects some comic moments, none more so than the newsreel footage of a plump boy scout relating how he came across the dumped corpse of Wanley's victim. "I wasn't afraid," the kid proudly states. "Boy scouts are thought never to be afraid."

Wanley spends much of the film accompanying his District Attorney buddy and various officials on their investigation, and he comes close to giving himself away on several occasions. The evidence is pretty glaring that Wanley is the man they're after - at one point he thoughtlessly leads them down the off the beaten track where he ditched the body - but the officials laugh at the idea that someone as innocuous as Wanley could be a killer. Lang's film is a fantasy of a middle-aged man for whom the designation 'harmless' is a dagger (or a scissors) in the ribs, and at the time it may have fed into the guilt American men above a certain age felt for being spared military duty. Awaking in a sweat from his fever dream, Wanley ultimately accepts that there are worse things a man can be called than 'harmless'.
Extras:

Commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith; video essay by critic David Cairns; original trailer; booklet featuring essays by Amy Simmons and Samm Deighan.

The Woman in the Window is on blu-ray May 20th from Eureka Entertainment.




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