(Open Thread) Noir Side Street — “The Window,” (1949)

Nouvelle Vague (the residues of alphaville). Photo by Emiliano Grusovin.

This week’s film is 1949’s “The Window,” starring Bobby Driscoll (Tommy Woodry), Barbara Hale (Mary Woodry), Arthur Kennedy (Ed Woodry), Paul Stewart (Joe Kellerson), and Ruth Roman (Jean Kellerson). Directed by Ted Tetzlaff, screenplay by Mel Dinelli, based on the short story, “The Boy Cried Murder,” by Cornell Woolrich.

Usually kids and noir don’t mix, but there’s the rare film which stars a child actor, making the stakes even higher for our innocent protagonist. And Tommy certainly soon ends up in a world of danger in this story, some of it of his own making. You see, Tommy likes to say things which aren’t true, often pretty obviously so, yet people believe his stories anyway. As a for instance, during the first few scenes, he’s with the neighbor boys who had bet what the day’s high temperature would be (the film takes place in the middle of summer in New York City), and Tommy ends up winning with a bet of 94. When asked what he’ll do with the money, he replies he’s saving up to buy a horse. When asked where he plans to keep a horse, he responds, “At our ranch.” And when pressed where this ranch is and why doesn’t your family live there, he claims the ranch is located in Texas, near Tombstone, and it’s infested with Indians which need to be killed off. When asked how long this will take, he says, “Oh, in a couple of days.” At this point, one of the boys runs off with the news that Tommy’s family (the Woodrys) will be moving, so their apartment will be available to rent.

So, you can probably imagine how upset his parents are when, during dinner, the building manager wants to show their apartment to potential renters.

Like I said, he kinda brings some of this on himself. But even still, he gets far more than he’s bargained for when he goes to sleep out on the fire escape and ends up outside the window of their upstairs neighbors, the Kellersons. Their shade is mostly drawn, except for the last few inches above the windowsill. And through that gap, Tommy witnesses a strange man being murdered during a struggle with the couple.

When Tommy goes back downstairs, understandably shaken by what he’s seen, his mother tells him he’s had a nightmare and to go back to bed. Tommy’s convinced that’s what’s happened, until he realizes he’s left his pillow out on the fire escape and goes off to fetch it.

If you want to know more, you can read the synopsis here.

The film was made in 1947 entirely on location in New York City (the first Hollywood production to do this, but “Naked City” is often cited as the first, since it was released earlier); it was made during winter, even though the story’s set in summer. So imagine everyone running around frigid New York City wearing thin summer clothing, without giving anything away about how cold it really is. That’s some first-rate acting! Once the film was finished, it was shelved, because Howard Hughes had just acquired RKO Pictures, and didn’t think a movie starring a child would draw an audience. It wasn’t until two years later, when RKO was looking for anything to make money for them that they released “The Window,” which became an instant hit for them.

The director, Ted Tetzlaff, spent his early career working as a cameraman and cinematographer for directors like Alfred Hitchcock, so once he was given the opportunity to helm a project himself, he had the skills and visual style necessary to pull off a noir film. The movie hits all the right noir notes, such as effective use of shadow and light — especially in relation to the murder scene and the chase through the empty and dilapidated tenement where the film’s climax takes place. It’s a very satisfying 73 minutes of suspense. I give it 4 out of 5 unfiltered cigarette puffs.

Next week’s film is “Johnny Angel,” starring George Raft and Claire Trevor.

As always, this is an open thread, so feel free to chat about anything you like.

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