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The Woman in the Window

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Fritz Lang - 1944
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

First off, I'm going to assume that anyone who reads this is already familiar with the movie, or the story and plot twist at the end. I also have to say that I don't think I have to much to say that hasn't been said before or better by others. As far as commentary tracks go, there is a certain amount of trepidation on my part, with some almost disastrously improvised by people who are audibly scrambling for their notes or stating "facts" that can be disproven with a little research. Imogen Sara Smith knows her stuff, and her commentary track is definitely worth a listen, even if you've seen Woman in the Window multiple times as I have prior to the new blu-ray release.

Now about that twist ending . . . Edward G. Robinson is seen in the earlier scene, taking an illustrated copy of "Song of Songs" from the library of the gentlemen's club, sitting down with the drink he had ordered, advising the waiter to notify him when it is 10:30 pm. When 10:30 rolls around, Robinson leaves the club for that fateful meeting on the street with Joan Bennett. The surprise for viewers is the reveal that the meeting and subsequent events were all part of a very detailed dream. And yet . . . maybe it's my own interpretation of what I'm looking at on the screen, but when Robinson is framed in that medium shot, with the book in hand and drink at the side, when it is still about 9:15 pm or so, Robinson's eyes seem to be closing. We're only talking about a few frames in a shot that dissolves to the shot of Robinson being reminded that it is 10:30 pm, but Robinson's face in that shot has the appearance of someone at least ready to fall asleep. And again, maybe it's how I'm reading that shot, but it would suggest that Lang was playing with the inattention of viewers, plus the subtlety of bringing something like this off when the film could only be seen theatrical, indicating that Robinson was in a dream state when the bulk of the film takes place.

While there may not be obvious dream logic, there are also a couple of moments that are questionable. When Robinson is attacked by the man known as Frank, is he consciously reaching out for the pair of scissors? And why does Bennett give Robinson the scissors instead of stabbing Frank herself, if not fatally at least enough to stop him from trying to kill Robinson? And the shootout near the end, with the police hot on the trail of Dan Duryea, with the cop shooting at Duryea from inside the police car makes no visual sense. I have to wonder how Duryea gets killed when it doesn't even appear that the cop and the blackmailer can even see each other?

Of course these are things you don't notice when the story whizzes by. Time is always of the essence, with shots of clocks in close-up or within the frame. One of the other benefits of watching a film on blu-ray is to take advantage of freezing a shot, to discover that Bennett has hidden her blackmail loot under a copy of Thirty Clocks Strike the Hour, a very real 1932 novel by Vita Sackville-West. (Other than a very brief description about an old woman with a room with thirty clocks, I could find no detailed description of Saville-West's novel.)

I'm here mostly because I like Joan Bennett in her film noir period, the four films she did with Fritz Lang, plus Jean Renoir's Woman on the Beach and Max Ophul's The Restless Moment. Sure, Lang and scriptwriter Nunnally Johnson signal their intentions with the opening shot of Professor Robinson giving a lecture underneath the name Sigmund Freud written in huge letters. But the subsequent scene of Robinson smoking at the gentlemen's club is a reminder of the adage that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a movie is best appreciated for its surface pleasures.

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