Poor Edward G. Robinson. He reached stardom playing evil gangsters, mob bosses, when in reality, he was a good stage actor who could play drama, comedy, and tried at various times in his Hollywood career to break out from the “gangster” label. Fritz Lang, an Austrian-German director who had arrived in Hollywood in the 1930s to get away from the Nazi’s, who had banned one of his films in 1932, gave Robinson a chance to play a role that wasn’t a gangster part. The film was 1944’s The Woman in the Window. Robinson plays middle-aged Professor Richard Wanley, a professor of Psychology. His wife and kids have recently gone on a vacation and he is alone at home. He decides to hang out at his club one evening, spending time with some good friends at their Men’s Club: District Attorney Frank Lalor(Raymond Massey) and Dr. Barkstane(Edmond Breon). As Professor Wanley walks to the club, he notices a painting of a beautiful, young woman in the window of a nearby shop. He stops to admire the painting and when he meets his friends, they spend some time discussing the beautiful woman in the painting. On his way home, Wanley again, stops to admire the painting and the subject of it appears hauntingly, her reflection in the window, catching Wanley off guard.
The beautiful, young woman is Alice Reed(Joan Bennett) and she knows that this middle-aged man is entranced by her beauty. She decides to demurly take adavantage of Professor Wanly. She invites him to have a drink with her at a local bar. Then she invites him to her apartment for more drinks. As Wanley admires more works of art in Alice’s apartment, an angry man bursts in accusing Alice of cheating on him and he tries to attack her. Alice grabs a pair of scissors and tosses them to Wanley, who the angry man has turned his attack on and Wanley stabs the man in the back, killing him! So much for a quiet evening of drinks, art, and talking!
The mild-mannered professor is in a state of shock. What should he do? Here, he thought he’d just enjoy a nice evening with the beautiful woman in the painting and now a murder has happened, a murder he committed in self-defense, but a murder none-the less. Robinson does a wonderful job portraying a middle-aged man, who despite having a wife and two children, a satisfying job, and good friends, is just a tad bit lonely. He feels a tad bit vulnerable due to the fact that he is aging.
Joan Bennett is good as the femme fatale of this piece. She is beautiful, she knows it, and she’s more than ready to make Professor Wanley her fall guy. What her hard-boiled, hidden persona doesn’t expect is to develop true feelings for the professor. I wouldn’t call it love, but she does care about him and starts to feel guilty for how she is manipulating him when the mastermind behind the money-making plot via blackmail, Heidt(Dan Duryea) enters the scene, demanding that they get more money from the professor.
Duryea is so excellent as the real baddie of this film. In real life, Dan Duryea was a very nice guy. A married man with kids, acting was his talent and he supported his family with his skills. For some reason, he made his mark as playing bad guys but instead of not taking those roles, he took them and ran with them.
The Woman in the Window airs from time to time on Turner Classic Movies and I’ve put the movie’s trailer here for viewing. The film is available to buy through Amazon. It was also available at one time on Netflix and may still be available. Lastly, some kind soul has put the entire movie up on Youtube! For a great film noir with a twist of an ending, seek out The Woman in the Window.