Ever go on a Centrifugal force ride? The ones that hold you in place as they pick up speed and push you to the edge. You try to move your arm, but it’s dead. You get pushed further and further back into your seat while a weight sits on top of your chest and pulls at your face. Then BANG. There’s that sought after endorphin rush.
Well, that’s what watching The Woman in the Window (1944) feels like. A nail biter noir that lays on the tension until you’re pushed back into your seat and can’t turn away. Directed by Fritz Lang and considered a masterpiece of film-noir, The Woman in the Window has been added to Eureka! ever-growing Master of Cinema collection.
With his family away on vacation, psychology professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) has the chance encounter with Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), the model for a painting he has been admiring. Accompanying her home to discuss the artwork, Wanley is attacked by Alice’s wealthy jealous boyfriend. Killing him in self-defence, Wanley and Alice realise that to go to the police will ruin them both, and work to cover up the crime. But as the police investigate, an ex-cop (Dan Duryea) begins to pile the pressure onto Wanley.
This is probably one of the tensest movies I have watched in a while. Lang adds layer after layer, building it up to breaking point. And what’s interesting is Lang doesn’t do it through tight, claustrophobic, close up shots. Most of the scenes are shot at Full/American range and at high angles. A step away from noir’s classic low angled medium/close shots. Low key lighting and thick oily shadows hide most of the detail of the scene, forcing you to focus on the action. That’s the key. Lang makes the viewer watch the work on the screen. Turning the psychological visuals up to full force this, with the obvious exceptions of M (1931) and Metropolis (1927), is one of Lang’s most significant works as a director. Despite being labelled a noir, The Woman in the Window goes back to the earlier expressionist and proto-noir of Lang’s German career.
That said it’s not without its issues. Wanley and Reed, for the most part, are flat and two dimensional. Lacking development, they become stock characters. Though not the kind traditionally found in noir. Reed is not a femme fatale, nor is Wanley an anti-hero. Which may be the point. Ordinary people are thrown together in strange circumstances. But without an arc as such it ends up lacking.
But that’s just a minor quibble. My main objection comes at the end that for the sake of spoilers I won’t ruin and was no doubt included to appease the Hay’s Code rules. But beyond that, it’s still a good film.
The disk comes with a video essay by critic David Cairns, audio commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith and a collector’s booklet.
Dir: Fritz Lang
Scr: Nunnally Johnson
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea
Prd: Nunnally Johnson
DOP: Milton Krasner
Music: Arthur Lange
Runtime: 99 minutes
The Woman in the Window is available on Blu-Ray now.