Thursday, June 9, 2011


Above everything else, The Woman in the Window is a morality tale about the dangers of looking for adventure outside of home. Edward G. Robinson stars as Professor Richard Wanley, who runs into a painting of a beautiful woman and has his life go down the drain after it (no spoilers ahead so fear not)

The woman in question is Joan Bennett, who plays Alice Reed, the model for the painting.
Directed by Fritz Lang, this movie attempts to create a noir-ish mood achieved through shadows, oblique angles and of course Bennett as the ultimate femme fatale.
However, it's slightly hypocritical to cast The Woman in the Window as noir, when it's so freaking conservative in its values.
Film noir was known for its moral decay, perversity and dead ends. Nobody comes unscathed out of an iconic noir! Yet in this one, what we find is a moralizing tale about a man who can't cope with the guilt brought by his fantasies.

It's no coincidence that Professor Wanley first spots the painting after sending his family away on a trip. It's as if he has not allowed himself to even see other women while his wife is around (out of sight, out of heart), if to this you add the fact that he's a psychology professor, we have ourselves a quite dated, even facile attempt at deconstructing the unfaithful male psyche.
The point however isn't to curse the film for its old fashioned values and its silly finale, but to observe how Lang aptly taps into the misogyny contained in the way that Wanley (as the ultimate viewer) places Alice within his life. She is merely a piece of art to behold.

Lang and his DP, Milton R. Krasner, keep placing Bennett within frames for the entire movie.

Notice in this scene where she confronts Dan Duryea's character, her head fits perfectly within this frame. Sure, he's framed in this one too, but next time they meet...

...she's still perfectly framed. He's not.

The surprising twist in the film is represented in my favorite shot though. It's not one of the two famous turns that the film is famous for, but the eventual realization that it's not only Alice who Prof. Wanley has framed.
As he looks back on what he's done, we see that his entire family is held within frames as well. As he looks at them with sorrow and regret we realize that in his narrow vision of life, he's the only one entitled to a godlike vision. When things get out of control, he still has these people in cages. The Woman in the Window might fail as pure noir, but it's entirely effective as a disturbed vision of male egocentricity.

This post is part of Nat's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series.

1 comment:

Runs Like A Gay said...

This isn't a film I'm familiar with, but surely Edward G. Robinson should have known that any woman who just drifts into frame alluringly must be bad news...