Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Woman in the Window

"The Woman in the Window" (Fritz Lang, 1944) The ex-patriate German film-stylist ("Metropolis") makes the first of his "love-is-a-trap" film noirs with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea. The second, "Scarlet Street" (Lang's next film) will be a nightmarish tale of lust, betrayal and greed that will skirt the Hays Code of having one of the triangle getting away with murder, but "The Woman in the Window" will be a bit more sedate...almost text-book.

Richard Wanley (
Robinson) is a professor of criminal psychology, so you'd think he'd knows his stuff, but it seems he's only good at the theory. While his wife and kids are out of town for the Summer, Wanley becomes enamored with a portrait of a young woman in a store window (theory), and after a club-night with the boys (among whom is detective Raymond Massey), he comes across the woman in the flesh and accepts an invitation to her apartment. Turns out she's the moll of a notorious money-changer, see? And N.M.C. shows up at the apartment, looking to serve Wanley a Harvey Wallbanger.

Things get ugly and somebody gets dead.
It's up to the Good Professor to do some Bad Things to keep his reputation intacto, not to mention his corpus.

The wonderful thing about Lang is he kept making his scary German films (like "
M," his "Mabuse" spy-fantasies) in Hollywood, with a budget that would make glossier his mouse-trap films. Lang knew how to tell his stories in shadow, and even include the vast area outside the frame in the mix to keep audiences guessing as to what would happen next—his protagonists (and they're not always heroes) have to run his maze of ever-tightening traps that will mean loss of freedom or death ("or worse!" as they used to say on the "Batman" TV show—which employed some Lang techniques—with this director you couldn't be sure if Death was the end of it).

Here, Lang dips his toe into the dark murky water that he will dive in head-first with "
Scarlet Street," sketching a nightmare scenario and cautionary tale, preparing for the final deadly masterpiece of his next film.

Provocative, stylish and downright cruel, the cinema of
Fritz Lang spoke of high themes and low instincts and if he's not the father of "film-noir," he's certainly a very close uncle.*

* According to Wikipedia the term "film noir"—"black cinema"—was coined by the French Press—they also make damn fine coffee—in 1946, after the post-war arrival of American films "The Maltese Falcon,""Double Indemnity," "Laura," "Murder, My Sweet," and..."The Woman in the Window." So, the five fathers of "Noir" are John Huston, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Edward Dmytryk, and Fritz Lang—three Germans and two Americans (shudder!)

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