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The Woman in the Window: MGM Film Noir DVD Review

The Woman in the Window (1944) movie poster The Woman in the Window

Theatrical Release: November 3, 1944 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Fritz Lang

Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Professor Richard Wanley), Joan Bennett (Alice Reed), Raymond Massey (D.A. Frank Lalor), Edmond Breon (Dr. Michael Barkstane), Dan Duryea (Heidt), Thomas E. Jackson (Inspector Jackson), Dorothy Peterson (Mrs. Wanley), Arthur Loft (Claude Mazard), Frank Dawson (Collins), George "Spanky" McFarland (Boy Scout, uncredited), Robert Blake (Dickie Wanley, uncredited)

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By Aaron Wallace

The term "film noir" was first used by French critics in 1946, a year that saw a series of older American films released overseas.
Among them were Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, Laura, and Murder, My Sweet, classics that bear a number of common attributes that are today understood as definitive of "noir." Also released in France that year was The Woman in the Window, a noir that doesn't typically get the attention of its aforementioned contemporaries.

The film tells the story of Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson), a professor who finds himself smitten by a woman whose painting is on display in a street window. Jaded by the dullness of middle age and married life, the painting reminds him of youthful romance that is no longer accessible to him. When the woman who seems to be the real-life inspiration for the portrait, a stunning beauty named Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), happens by that very same window, Wanley decides to accompany her back to her apartment for harmless conversation. An unexpected visitor quickly robs the evening of its innocence, however, and Wanley finds himself the perpetrator of murder.

Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) is amazed to meet Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), the Woman in the Window in the film of the same name. Alice and Richard consider their next move after their first moments together turn deadly.

The dilemma of what to do next drives the rest of the film, as Richard and Alice attempt to escape any implication of guilt. A series of surprising plot twists ensue, leading right up to an ending that is sure to divide the audience into the intrigued and the frustrated. That brand of drama is synonymous with film noir, but here it's less compelling than in many others. Suspense is plentiful in the narrative, but the film is less complex and ambiguous than the finest noirs. Whether it's because his case is one of self-defense or because Edward G. Robinson is just far too likable a lead to elicit the genre's prescribed distrust from the audience, Richard Wanley always seems to stand on fairly solid moral ground. Only in his nearly adulterous leanings does he seem suspect, revealing a didactic chastisement of infidelity in the film, but it's unlikely that anyone will think twice about rooting for him.

Of course, that's usually where the femme fatale steps in, an easy target for blame. Alice Reed certainly fills that role, but she's less fatal than most. In fact, she's nearly as helpless and hapless as Wanley. The ending simultaneously affirms and challenges her culpability in Wanley's misfortune, leaving the matter open to viewers' debate. Until then, however, noir's usual relationship between the dubious male and fatal female is only vaguely recognizable.

There's nothing wrong with this set-up, it just means that the movie is a little closer to the conventional suspense film and not as ethically dense as some of those more revered noir titles. Perhaps that's why The Woman in the Window is sometimes overlooked, despite its initial box office success and continued appreciation by fans of the genre. That's unfortunate because the movie still offers a lot of enjoyment.

With a show of his scratched wrist, Richard suggests his own guilt to his D.A. (Raymond Massey) and doctor (Edmond Breon) friends. Alice does the femme fatale thing in enticing the dead man's blackmailing bodyguard Heidt (Dan Duryea).

The acting, for one, is superb. It's difficult to divorce Robinson from his good guy image in Double Indemnity, but he's still a delight on the screen. Joan Bennett is equally impressive in her role. Though the actors aren't supplied with the quick and witty dialogue of, say, Laura (to which this movie is actually remarkably similar in a number of ways), they still command the screen.

Suspense is the movie's greatest attribute. Though it's not the cleverest or most complex film noir ever made, it is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat as you feel every bent nerve in the protagonists' plight to elude discovery and capture.

The Woman in the Window makes a late arrival to DVD this year. Its debut on the format comes as part of a new MGM Film Noir line, released alongside Kansas City Confidential, and Edward G. Robinson's The Stranger and A Bullet for Joey. The DVD's low-key presentation is covered in the remainder of this review.

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1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Dolby Digital Mono (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 10, 2007
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

It appears that little, if any, restoration work has gone into the film's transfer to DVD. Presented in its original black and white and 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the picture suffers from a number of unwanted elements. In particular, artifacts and grain show up with some regularity. That said, if you aren't looking for them, you'll rarely pick up on them. The picture doesn't come close to rivaling the brilliant restoration
that more reputable films like Sunset Boulevard and Citizen Kane have received, but the contrast is decent enough and it's entirely tolerable.

The audio is presented only in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, replicating that of the original theatrical presentation. At times, the track can be a little hard to hear, meaning you'll want to up the volume a bit beyond its normal levels. That aside, the track is satisfactory, though some will surely wish a more robust track had been presented as an alternative.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

There are no bonus features or supplements of any kind on the disc, not even previews of other titles. That's always disappointing, but when one considers that the movie has taken this long to make it to DVD and will appeal primarily to genre fans, we might count ourselves lucky that it's been made available at all.

The single-layered disc is packaged inside a standard black keepcase with no inserts. The disc art is a label that essentially repeats the cover art. All of the menus are static and silent, including the very simplistic main menu screen.

Alice and Richard are unlikely but likable partners in crime... cover-up. Wanley feels suspicions closing on him, as he fumbles to explain the poison ivy on his arm.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Woman in the Window isn't among the best films noirs, but it does succeed as a very suspenseful drama. On DVD, the lack of supplements will disappoint many but is off-set by the low price tag and an audio/video treatment that is decent enough, even if far from excellent. Any viewer's odds of enjoying the movie are pretty high, though the DVD is best suited for either a rental or an inexpensive purchase.

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Reviewed July 13, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 UltimateDisney.com. Images copyright 1944 MGM and 2007 MGM/Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.