The Woman in the Window, starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey, Edmund Breon, Dan Duryea
Synopsis of The Woman in the Window
When a conservative middle-aged professor engages in a minor dalliance with a femme fatale, he is plunged into a nightmarish quicksand of blackmail and murder.
Editorial review of The Woman in the Window courtesy of Amazon.com
Fritz Lang did his best work in Hollywood throughout the 1940s, and The Woman in the Window ranks among his best films from that period. Equally adept at crafting first-rate Westerns and melodramatic thrillers, Lang returned to the latter category for The Woman in the Window, a deliciously devious follow-up to 1944’s Ministry of Fear and a near-perfect companion piece to Lang’s 1945 follow-up, Scarlet Street.
Adapted by producer/screenwriter Nunnally Johnson from J.H. Wallis’s novel Once Off Guard, this briskly paced and brilliantly plotted thriller begins with a chance encounter between mild-mannered psychology professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) and Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), the stylishly alluring subject of a portrait that Wanley has dreamily admired in a window near the men’s club where he socializes with a savvy District Attorney (Raymond Massey) and a friendly physician (Edmund Breon). When Alice invites Wanley to her apartment for casual drinks and conversation, Wanley is forced to kill an intruder, and his subsequent cover-up leads to a nail-biting plot in which Wanley must feign innocence as he “innocently” participates in the D.A.’s investigation with a homicide detective.
Lang was an expert at turning the screws of suspense, and while Johnson’s screenplay tempers its convenient coincidences with well-written characters, Robinson’s increasing desperation is the engine that drives the plot. When a sleazy blackmailer (Dan Duryea) squeezes Wanley and Reed for every penny they’ve got, The Woman in the Window winds up to a fever pitch, with a “twist” ending that’s either a cop-out or clever, depending on your tolerance for now-familiar surprises.
As renowned critic Pauline Kael astutely noted, The Woman in the Window has “the logic and plausibility of a nightmare,” and Lang surely enjoyed the superbly cast trio of Robinson, Bennett, and Duryea, for he invited them back for Scarlet Street just a few months later. And speaking of murder, check out the kid playing Robinson’s son in one of the opening scenes: that’s future real-life murder-conspiracy suspect Bobby (Robert) Blake (subsequently acquitted), at the innocent age of 10. –Jeff Shannon