Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: The Woman in the Window


"The Woman in the Window" has been on my list for a while, and I finally got around to watching it after having recorded it on TCM. And it did not disappoint!

Let me set the stage here.

Gotham College professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) just kissed the wifey and kiddos goodbye as they left for a lengthy summer vacation, and he meets up with his buddies to kick off his freedom with dinner at the men's club.

Let me just stop right here and say these 1940's men's clubs are outstanding, and you can bet heavily that I'd be a regular. It's all so classy: Eating dinner and then adjourning to the lounge area for cigars, coffee and brandy in tall overstuffed chairs, surrounded by a library of books and hearths with roaring fires. I need to find these places.

But I digress ...

As Richard approaches the club, he notices an exquisitely painted portrait of a beautiful woman ... yes ... in a window, and is transfixed by it. His friends -- district attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) and Dr. Michael Barkstane (Edmund Breon) -- watch and chuckle as he stares at the portrait, and then give him some good-natured ribbing.

Later, after his friends have gone, Richard is awakened in one of those overstuffed chairs, as he was reading a book, with a glass of brandy (yes!) and makes his way out of the club. However, he's drawn to the painting once more, and as he's gazing at it, he sees the reflection of the very same woman in the glass. She is Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), and she's standing beside him on the sidewalk.

Having had a bit too much to drink, and fueled by conversations of being middle-aged and no longer being able to find the fun in adventure, Richard seizes the moment during the quite suggestive convo and agrees to accompany this captivating woman for more cocktails in the city and then a rendezvous at her apartment, where they are certainly enjoying themselves -- even though Richard knows better.

Alice:(Offering him a drink) Let's have another.
Richard: I should say no, I know, but I haven't the slightest intention of saying it.

Inevitably, things go horribly awry. Alice's apparent boyfriend comes storming in, fights with Richard and, well, ends up dead. The two cook up a plan to cover it up, and it's here this thing shifts into another gear and becomes unrelenting suspense.

Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson
There are parts where it feels very Hitchcockian -- like a great scene in which Richard is driving and nearly runs an old-fashioned red light, and he looks out the window to see a cop smiling at his close call ... only Richard knows how close a call it was. There are lines spoken here or pieces of information dropped there that, when they occur, you know they will come into play again later. The whole movie and its complexities are structured so well, it's just a prime example of flawless storytelling.

The film is a perfect companion piece to "Double Indemnity," which Robinson is also in but has the pleasure of playing a character with considerably less stress and anxiety -- the friend who unsuspectingly closes in on his buddy who is trying to get away with murder.

Here, that part is played by Massey's agonizingly analytical district attorney, who expertly begins to put his theories and the case together right in front of his squirming friend.

Massey: Now these two people, this man and this woman, sit ... hating and fearing each other. Each wondering how long it'll be before the other is caught and blabs out the whole story.

It's fascinating to watch this old-school deductive reasoning and logic at play here, without the CSI-style, DNA-gathering techniques we're used to seeing today. And it's equally fascinating to watch Richard -- who, I have to say, for a college professor makes some colossal blunders -- marvel at the police's expertise, get stuck in these hilariously distressing situations, screw up, try to cover up again and continue to plot and scheme his way out of this mess.

And just when you think things can't get worse for Richard and Alice, a blackmailer is introduced in the sleazy form of Heidt (Dan Duryea), who makes things even more miserable -- in some intense scenes with Alice -- but he also thrusts this story into overdrive toward the riveting conclusion.

Now, the ending ... I'm sure for its time it was quite a riot, and yes I got a kick out of it. But watching it today, I would have gone another way with it -- bending toward the tragically ironic and more befitting of the elegant Hitchcockian track it was on.

But overall, this is an absolutely entertaining film, and if you sit back -- maybe with some frosty Guinnesses as I did -- and let it all play out, you'll enjoy this movie immensely whilst leaning forward on the edge of your seat throughout ... guaranteed.

1 comment:

Monica E. Smith said...

Thanks to your review, I have just moved up this movie in my netflix queue :)