Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Woman in the Window

This month, the Cinématheque Pusan is having a retrospective of the films of Fritz Lang.

Fritz Lang made The Woman in the Window (1944) the year before he directed Scarlet Street (1945), which again starred Edward G. Robinson as a meek every man, Joan Bennett as the younger woman he's infatuated with, and Dan Duryea as the homme fatale who exploits her.

It's not so surprising for a director to repeat himself, but seeing the two films together, I was aware of other continuities between them that are more subtle and mysterious. For instance, both films associate one character with a pork pie hat.

Stylistically, however, the two films are rather different. The Woman in the Window is less atmospheric with nearly wall-to-wall music. The settings are generically upscale, and even the blackmailer wears a dinner jacket.

The story is set in New York in the summer. Richard Wanley (Robinson) is a professor of psychology whose wife and children go on vacation indefinitely at the beginning of the film. That night, Richard goes out for drinks with two friends, Frank (Raymond Massey), the district attorney, and Michael (Edmund Breon), a doctor. They point out to Richard a portrait in a store window of a woman they've decided is their dream girl. Coming home from the club, Richard stops to stare at the painting when he notices the reflection of the model, Alice (Bennett), standing behind him.

From there, the film develops into a modest thriller. Richard and Alice go back to her place for drinks until her boyfriend shows up and tries to strangle Richard. He kills the boyfriend in self defense with a pair of scissors, and then dumps the body in the woods. After it's discovered, Richard exploits his friendship with Frank to stay one step ahead of the cops.

The film's only serious flaw is the ending, which I won't spoil for anyone since its lameness should be self-evident. I'd seen the film once before and knew it was coming, yet it managed to enrage me all over again.

Is The Woman in the Window a better film than Scarlet Street? It's impossible for me to answer, because the former aims so much lower. It's not one of the great Fritz Lang films, but for the most part, it hits its marks. I think that's enough.

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