Friday, May 4, 2012
The Window (1949)
I’ve always maintained that if you’re a halfway competent film-maker you can’t make a bad film from a Cornell Woolrich story. RKO’s 1949 thriller The Window, directed by Ted Tetzlaff, tends to support that theory.
Hitchcock based one of his greatest movies, Rear Window, on a Woolrich story. Although Hitchcock’s and Tetzlaff’s movies were based on different Woolrich stories there are superficial similarities - both involve a murder (or an apparent murder) witnessed through a window. While Tetzlaff’s movie is not in the same class as Hitchcock’s it’s still a fine and rather underrated little thriller. There’s another connection with Hitchcock - Tetzlaff was the director of photography on another Hitchcock masterpiece, Notorious.
The Window is a Boy Who Cried Wolf story. Ten-year-old Tommy Woodry is always making up outrageous stories about crimes he’s supposedly witnessed so when he’s sleeping out on the fire escape on a hot night and witnesses a real murder he understandably has trouble convincing anyone that this time he’s telling the truth.
Unfortunately for Tommy the only people who believe he really saw something are the murderers. Now he not only has to find a way to make someone believe him, he has to do it before the murderers can stop him.
Oscar-winning cild star Bobby Driscoll (whose tragic life came to a sordid end in 1968 when he was buried in a pauper’s grave after a life of drug addiction) gives an excellent performance as Tommy.
I’ve never been an Arthur Kennedy fan but he gives a good restrained performance as Tommy’s father, a sympathetic character who just can’t convince himself that this time his son might be telling the truth. Barbara Hale is solid as Tommy’s mother. Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman are fine villains with Roman providing the necessary femme fatale ingredient. Roman goes close to stealing the picture, providing a subtly chilling performance.
Robert De Grasse and William O. Steiner share the cinematography credit and contribute some effective noir images with plenty of shadows and the obligatory noir device of characters’ faces seen through slatted light sources suggestive of bars.
The movie uses the classic suspense formula - tell the audience exactly what is going on and then let them sweat as they watch the characters struggling to unravel the mystery and avoid their fate. Director Ted Tetzlaff proves himself more than competent. The scene with the key is particularly clever. The plot is tightly constructed and the tension is built up very effectively. The climax is perhaps a little predictable but it’s handled with style and works extremely well.
The Warner Archive DVD-R offers a superb print. I’m more and more impressed by this series of DVD-R releases.
A good taut well-made B-movie thriller. Content-wise it’s not very noir, apart from the fact that everything Cornell Woolrich wrote has a kind of twisted perversity that is very noir and which the movie captures quite effectively, but visually it ticks all the noir boxes. Highly recommended.