Monday, March 30, 2009

The Woman in the Window (1944)

These essays are intended for people that have already seen the films being discussed. This entry will DEFINITELY spoil parts of the movie for you if you haven't seen it yet.

Edward G. Robinson, "third star" of DOUBLE INDEMNITY, this time stars as the stuffy professor of psychology, Richard Wanley. He is a loving and devoted husband and father, but bemoans the onset of middle age, when he seems to have little time or inclination for the type of adventure he used to get into. When his family leaves him behind for Summer vacation, however, he finds himself meeting an attractive woman (Joan Bennett) and going back to her apartment, where a man attacks him. Wanley kills him in self-defense and, though he clearly states in his lecture at the beginning of the film that not all killers are murderers, finds himself covering up the incident so that the impropriety won't be revealed, thus ruining his reputation.

This film is a fine example of a man getting into trouble despite his better sense, and proceeds at an unhurried pace, building in tension to the final solution, although it is undercut by the "Wizard of Oz" ending. I have been building a respect for Edward G. Robinson, who is probably best remembered as Rico in LITTLE CAESAR, but contrarily was quite a restrained, understated actor in most everything else I've seen. He fits perfectly in this role as the sedate professor, and is completely believeable trying to work his way out of the jam, up to and including his recognition that he knows that police can use the most minute detail as a clue, but admitting that he has little idea how they put those clues together.

The film is lit in a straightforward way, instead relying on mirrors and reflections to suggest the duality of the characters. It seems clear to us that Robinson is attracted to Bennett, but nothing untoward happens, undercutting the eroticism. But this is also the most interesting aspect of the picture. Robinson feels compelled to cover up the killing not because of the act itself, and not to conceal something he has done wrong at Bennett's apartment, but to eliminate the appearance of impropriety, which to him is the most damaging consequence. It is possibly the most selfish of motivations in the series so far.

It is not a dream-like film, until the end, and is not strange in any way. There is no extraneous cruelty. Even the poisoning is described in very clinical terms. But the ambivalence of the main character is what puts this film stongly in the category of noir.

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