Monday, July 4, 2011

The Woman in the Window - Is it a Beautiful Picture or a Dark Reflection?

It's been a while since I've watched Film Noir. As a person who likes film, I know I shouldn't have any problem watching movies in black and white. I have all these older movies in queue, but I usually have a hard time pressing play because I have some inner voice telling the movie is going to be boring since it's not in color. However, once I start the film, I'm instantly mesmerized by the story and have no idea why I was hesitant beforehand. This once again happened to me in Fritz Lang's 1944 mystery, The Woman in the Window.

Starring Edward G. Gibson, Professor Richard Wanley notices a beautiful portrait of a woman in a store window. After discussing how wonderful it would be to meet the woman behind the painting, his dreams come true when he sees the woman's reflection in the storefront window. After striking a conversation with the actual woman (played by Joan Bennett), she invites him back home to look through her other paintings. But as the two are sitting on the couch examining her art portfolio, a man walks into the house with a jealous rage and starts to strangle the professor. In self defense, the professor stabs the man with a pair of scissors, leaving a dead corpse in the center of the room. After deciding they shouldn't inform the authorities, the professor and woman have to dispose of the body.

When trying to get rid of a dead body, there are two parties you have to worry about: The Police and Blackmailers. Lang shows how to handle both using Gibson's character. Since the professor is friends with the district attorney, he tags along to observe the process of uncovering the "killer's" trail. Using this knowledge to his advantage, he is able to tie up loose ends he forgot to conceal. But at the same time, he must deal the man trying to blackmail both him and the woman.

Even though the professor devises a plan to poison and quiet the blackmailer, he remains a likable character. Overall, he is an innocent man put into a seedy situation. By doing the dirty work of disposing the body, he takes control of the situation yet maintains his charm.

As for the femme fatale, you can look at Joan Bennett in two ways. She may be the beautiful painting of an innocent woman trapped in an abusive relationship. Or, she may be the dark reflection in the window, using the "cute little old man" as a payoff to get rid of her dirty baggage. I have mixed views as she did hand the professor scissors when he was being choked. Was she doing it for the professor's benefit or was she wanting the other man dead? By the end of the film, I feel she was pushed into the situation rather than commanding it. However, seeing the beauty of Bennett, she could be easily pulling the strings of the professor (and even myself).

As for most films of this time, no one ever gets away with the crime. However, even though Gibson becomes a part of the lawlessness, the film is able to preserve Gibson's morality with a sweet and comedic ending.

Once again, my inner voice has been hushed that black and white films are boring. Fritz Lang proves he is a master of his craft, beautifully telling the story. Even though I am watching these older movies for my own appreciation, I will make it a goal to share them with others so they too can enjoy countless hours of black and white cinema.

So on Death List Five, The Woman in the Window ranks #4.

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