Monday, June 29, 2009

The Woman in the Window (1944)

I read an article last week about early films noir. It claimed the term "film noir" was applied to American films in French film magazines in 1946, the year when The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Laura (1944), Murder, My Sweet (1944), and The Woman in the Window were released in France. With such great company, I had to track this one down.

Directed by Fritz Lang and starring such noir stalwarts as Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, it tells the story of psychology professor Richard Wanley (Robinson). Wanley and his friends become obsessed with the portrait of a woman in the window next to their men's club. While admiring her portrait, Wanley meets the the subject, a Miss Alice Reed (Bennett), and strikes up a conversation with her. They end up in her apartment for talk and a few drinks. The woman's boyfriend bursts in, misinterprets Wanley's presence, attacks him. Wanley kills the boyfriend in self-defense and comes up with a plan to dump the body and help cover up the killing. Wanley slowly becomes a suspect as the police uncover more and more clues. To make matters worse, a blackmailer (Duryea) begins leaning on the woman.

Robinson gives a convincing performance as a middle-aged college professor. It’s obvious how easily he can fall for Bennett – who is dead sexy in the role. I can see how the film could be characterized as noir, but there are some un-noir elements in it. On the one hand, you have one mistake causing an ordinary man to fall deeper and deeper toward the bottom and the setting (city, nighttime, rain, etc). Bennett’s Alice Reed has the look and temperament of many a femme fatale, but her actions and her interactions with Robinson’s Wanley don’t fit the standard mold. Not to give too much away, but the ending is almost upbeat compared to the bleak ending of most noirs.

The cinematography is great. The story is tight. The acting is superb. If anyone else has seen it, let me know what you think. Noir or not?


1 comment:

Paul Brazill said...

Oh, it's fantastic and certainly as noir as they come.