The Woman in the Window (1944) – A Review

Edward G. Robinson Joan Bennet The Woman in the Window 1944
Joan Bennet and Edward G. Robinson in
The Woman in the Window

Criminology professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) is alone in New York City while his family is away. He’s just planning on relaxing, spending time at his gentlemen’s club and discussing the extinct risk taking these middle-aged men partake in.

While walking he’s struck by a portrait of a beautiful woman in a shop window. He ends up meeting the model Alice Reed (Joan Bennet) and against his better judgment accompanies her back to her apartment. There he’s confronted by her jealous lover, a scuffle ensues and Wanley kills him.

Wanley and Alice decide to dispose of his body and never contact each other again. As much as Richard tries to be careful he leaves many clues behind him, which starts leading the investigation right to his doorstep. Things turn even worse for Richard and Alice when Heidt (Dan Duryea) Mazard’s bodyguard blackmails them to keep him from going to the cops. It looks like a hopeless situation as the professor kicks himself for ever having been so smitten with that woman in the window.

Directed by Fritz Lang The Woman in the Window is one of the earliest ‘noir films’. It was one of the pack of films that really helped get the term coined. It has some of the components that one would find in a noir, but it also has vague shadows of others. They’re not as definitive as one would define them in a broad sense of the term. So I would say it’s a ‘noir’ in a very loose sense. But it’s still an entertaining film for the most part.

Lang keeps the tension up throughout as Robinson gets a front row seat to the police investigation and sees how all the silly blunders he made are adding up to more and more trouble for him. He’s sweating bullets and has very good reason to be.

He also has to worry about Bennet and whether he can trust her or not. Afterall, he doesn’t really know her. Will she be willing to sell him out to save her skin?

But you look at cinema marquees today and most of the titles are lifted from decades ago. Movie theaters are starting to be like a film version of TV Land.

Joan Bennet Dan Duryea The Woman in the Window film noir

The real standouts are Bennet and Duryea. Bennet looks absolutely gorgeous and at the beginning I kept trying to get a handle on just what kind of character she is and how sincere she could be. This is a noir afterall.

Her scene with Duryea as he visits to shake her down for money is wonderful. Really I think it’s the best scene in the film watching them go back and forth trying to outsmart each other.

Duryea – I just love him whenever I see him. If I were to cast an ultimate movie with any actors in the history of films to be in it, Duryea would most likely pop up somewhere as the arrogant, smirking, smug, insincere jerk that he could always play brilliantly. Even with a big smile on his face you know he’s up to no good and at any moment could pounce on you, slap you across the face and demand some cash. He’s got to be one of the best weasels in movies.

The ending is the part that gets most discussed among film fans – which I’m not going to reveal. Throughout the movie I was anxiously waiting to see how Robinson was going to get out of this jam. It was looking pretty hopeless. Then that ending happens. I personally didn’t care for it and felt cheated.

The Woman in the Window film noir Edward G. Robinson Joan Bennet 1944

I realize there were certain limitations due to the Hays Code at the time and that narrowed the choices films could end themselves on. Plus, the ending changes as to what the meaning of the story is really about and it is somewhat unique, but I still felt robbed after getting invested in the story. Had the movie ended a few minutes earlier I would have been more satisfied. And if you’ve seen the movie you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Even with the disappointing ending it doesn’t take away with what came before. It’s a compelling noir story, the actors are all awesome in it, there’s some beautiful cinematography and Lang’s direction kept me hooked in wanting to see where things were headed – but it ended on what I felt was a cop out and left me yelling, “Oh come on!”.

It’s not my favorite noir film, but it’s enjoyable for the most part. Lang would reteam his three actors in his next film Scarlett Street, which is one I plan to check out and hope it maintains it’s quality from beginning to the absolute end.


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1 Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    super essay,H2S,many thanks.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Duryea
    When interviewed by Hedda Hopper in the early 1950s, Duryea spoke of career goals and his preparation for roles:

    Well, first of all, let's set the stage or goal I set for myself when I decided to become an actor … not just 'an actor', but a successful one. I looked in the mirror and knew with my "puss" and 155-pound weakling body, I couldn't pass for a leading man, and I had to be different. And I sure had to be courageous, so I chose to be the meanest s.o.b. in the movies … strictly against my mild nature, as I'm an ordinary, peace-loving husband and father. Inasmuch, as I admired fine actors like Richard Widmark, Victor Mature, Robert Mitchum, and others who had made their early marks in the dark, sordid, and guilt-ridden world of film noir; here, indeed, was a market for my talents. I thought the meaner I presented myself, the tougher I was with women, slapping them around in well produced films where evil and death seem to lurk in every nightmare alley and behind every venetian blind in every seedy apartment, I could find a market for my screen characters…. At first it was very hard as I am a very even-tempered guy, but I used my past life experiences to motivate me as I thought about some of the people I hated in my early as well as later life … like the school bully who used to try and beat the hell out of me at least once a week … a sadistic family doctor that believed feeling pain when he treated you was the birthright of every man inasmuch as women suffered giving birth … little incidents with trade-people who enjoyed acting superior because they owned their business, overcharging you. Then the one I used when I had to slap a woman around was easy! I was slapping the over-bearing teacher who would fail you in their 'holier-than-thou' class and enjoy it! And especially the experiences I had dealing with the unbelievable pompous 'know-it-all-experts' that I dealt with during my advertising agency days … almost going 'nuts' trying to please these 'corporate heads' until I finally got out of that racket!"

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