tue 18/06/2019

Blu-ray: The Woman in the Window | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: The Woman in the Window

Blu-ray: The Woman in the Window

Fritz Lang conjures a homicide that enmeshes a timid professor with another man's slinky mistress

Touching team: Joan Bennett, Edward G Robinson

The Woman in the Window (1944) was the first of the two riveting film noirs in which Fritz Lang directed Edward G Robinson as a timid New York bourgeois, Joan Bennett as the alluring woman ill-met on a street, and Dan Duryea as the dandified sleaze who manipulates her.

Scarlet Street (1945) has a higher reputation than its predecessor, perhaps because it is the more sordidly and expressionistically noirish of the pair, as well as the bleakest. Adapted by producer-screenwriter Nunnally Johnson from JH Wallis’s novel Once Off Guard, The Woman in the Window softens its fatalism (and honours the Production Code’s censorious strictures) by using a Wizard of Oz-like bookending device that recasts the central action as a nightmare, a noir within a moralistic comedy about menopausal male responsibility and guilt. It thus augurs It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

The Woman in the WindowRobinson plays Richard Wanley, an assistant professor of psychology, who sends his wife and two kids off on holiday from Grand Central Station. At his club, he meets with friends, a doctor and a DA (Raymond Massey), for drinks and banter about their middle-aged stodginess and the closing-off of sexual adventure.

Drawn to a painting of a beautiful woman (a familiar noir motif) in a shop window, Wanley is astonished when the model for the picture materialises behind him: this is Bennett’s Alice Reed, a smiling phantom in a crow-feather hat and a glittering black gown. He accepts her curious offer to come home to look at more pictures of her, reinforcing the film's recognition that images can be more arousing than flesh. 

Enter the brutish financier who keeps Alice in her objets-crammed apartment. He's dead within moments and Wanley's goose is cooked. It's almost laughable the lengths he goes to incriminate himself as a murderer with his friend the DA and the cops. Duryea's languid, insinuating Heidt shows up to blackmail Alice; his straw boater (which Duryea also wears in Scarlet Street) proliferates, suddenly as symbolic as a bowler in Magritte. Wanley and Alice become a team, touchingly trusting each other.


Milton Krasner photographed A Woman in the Window (as he did Scarlet Street), and his and Lang’s use of reflections, via windows and mirrors, render inescapable the film’s dualistic theme. The staid Wanley’s doppelgänger is the man who lusts after the inviting younger woman (her first appearance being the return of the repressed). Ambiguous to the end, Alice belies her temptress image. Like Gloria Grahame’s pimped wife in Lang’s Human Desire (1954), she is a victim thrown back on seductiveness, not a femme fatale by choice. Even her apartment is a feint at respectability. These themes, touched on in the Blu-ray disc’s aural commentary and video essay, elevate A Woman in the Window and help make it a canonical noir.

Alice belies her temptress image - she is not a femme fatale by choice

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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