Movie Mirrors Index

The Woman in the Window

(1944 b 99')

En: 6 Ed: 6

Based on a novel J. H. Wallis and directed by Fritz Lang, a psychology professor has an adventure with a beautiful woman, and they kill a jealous man who tries to kill the professor. They attempt to get rid of the evidence and ignore the incident.

            At Gotham College Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) lectures a class on the urge to kill and the standards of culpability for homicide.

            Wanley says goodbye to his wife and two children who are going away on a train. Wanley on the street sees a painting of a beautiful woman in a store window. Dr. Michael Barkstane (Edmund Breon) and District Attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) see their friend Wanley and call her their dream girl. They go in a club and sit and talk, drinking and smoking cigars. Wanley says they are middle-aged, and he hates feeling stodgy. Frank says they should avoid adventures at their age. They agree to meet again the next night. Wanley says he is feeling rebellious, but he assures Frank that he will not be lured away by the woman in the window. They say goodnight and leave Wanley in the club. He picks out the book The Song of Songs which is Solomon’s and sits down to read it. He asks Charlie, the hatcheck man, to remind him when it is 10:30

            Charlie tells Wanley it is 10:30. Wanley has him put the book back and gets his hat. He walks out and looks at the picture of the woman again. In the window he sees the reflection of an attractive woman (Joan Bennett) and asks if she posed for the portrait. She nods smiling and says she is lonely sometimes and watches those who look at the picture. She says she is not married and has no designs on him. They go for a drink, and he tells how he discussed her portrait with his friends with great admiration. She asks him to take her home so that she can show him sketches of her by the same artist. He does not think he should. She asks if he is afraid of her. He says he was warned and says he should not have gone with her.

            They get out of a cab and go into her building. She invites him in and turns on lights. Telling him to make himself at home, she says she will be right back. She brings in sketches and hands them to him. He looks at them and likes them. She suggests he have another drink.

            Outside in the rain a man gets out of a taxi and goes up the stairs. Inside Wanley tells her he cut his hand on the wire on the wine bottle. The man comes in and sees them. He gets jealous and tries to strangle Wanley. She calls him Frank and hands scissors to Wanley, who stabs him in the back. The man collapses, and she asks if he is dead. He suggests they call the police. He asks who the man was. She says he never told her much about him. She saw him two or three times a week. He picks up his glasses and goes to the bedroom to use the telephone. He changes his mind about calling and hangs up the phone. He asks her if anyone saw her with him, and she says no one did. She asks if there is something they can do. He asks if anyone saw him come in there, and she says no one would have. She says they could make up any story they wanted. He says the man was trying to kill him and would have if she had not given him the scissors. He suggests having the nerve to do something so that no one would ever know what they did. He says he will get his car, and he will take the body somewhere in the country. She asks if he will come back. He tells her not to quarrel. He suggests they not tell each other their names. She agrees if he will leave his vest with her in case he did not come back. He says that is fair. He says there is very little blood spilled on the carpet and asks for a dark blanket to wrap his body. He goes in the bathroom, turns on water, and takes off his coat. He says police may be able to do much with clues. He tells her not to worry and promises he will be back. She says no one is outside, and he goes out. She looks at his vest and finds a pen with the initials “RW” on it.

            Wanley goes home and asks the attendant for his car. A man brings it to him, and he leaves in the car late at night. He is stopped by a policeman who asks him if he turns on his lights. The cop checks his identification and only gives him a warning. Wanley parks in front of her building and goes in. She lets him in. She shows him a watch with the initials “CM” on it. He says she can keep the money and tells her to destroy his wallet. He tells her to clean the rug thoroughly and the scissors. He tells her to clean everything, and she promises she will do so before going to bed. He puts the blanket around the body and puts the hat inside. He asks her to look outside.  She does not see anyone and goes back in. A man gets out of a car and goes up the stairs and into the building. He walks up the stairs; she sees him, and he sees her. The man goes on to his room. She opens the door and sees it is raining. Wanley carries the body in the blanket and puts it in his car. He takes the blanket back in. She takes it and says she will not see him again. They say goodbye, and he drives off.

            Wanley drives in the rain and stops at a toll booth because the dime he paid was lost. He gives the attendant another dime and says he can have the other one. He drives on and stops at a signal. A policeman on a motorcycle looks at him. Wanley drives on a country road and stops by woods. He takes the body out of the car and carries it over his shoulder into the woods. He comes to a barbed wire fence and throws it over. He catches his wrist on a barb. He goes back to his car and closes the door. He gets in and sees the man’s hat. A car toots, and he drives off. His car left tire tracks in the mud.

            At a dinner table Wanley and Michael get up and meet Frank in the club. Frank says that Claude Mazard disappeared. Wanley asks if he is the promoter. Michael says he is a financier. Frank says they will wait until midnight to see if he shows up; then they will inform the newspapers. Wanley says they cannot assume that he was murdered, and Frank says he did not mention murder. Frank leaves for a phone call, and Wanley wonders why he said that.

            At home Wanley burns the hat in the fireplace and sits down at his desk. He writes a note to his dearest darling and then crumples it. The radio news reports that the police announced the disappearance of Mazard with suspicion of foul play. Wanley turns off the radio and a lamp.

            In a movie theater a film shows a boy scout saying how he found the body and will get the reward.

            Wanley is dining with Frank and Michael. Frank says he was not killed in the woods and explains what they learned about the tire tracks and what the shoe-prints reveal about the man. He says they also know what kind of suit he wore and what blood type he has. Wanley mentions a barbed wire fence as the source of blood, and Frank says he did not mention that. Frank says Wanley is eaten up with envy for him. Wanley admits he scratched his wrist and says he did it on a tin can. Frank suggests they go into the lounge and says they have a line on a woman. Frank is given a report. Wanley says Frank is a smart man. Wanley says he has not been sleeping well, and the doctor gives him pills to help him sleep, warning him that taking too many will kill a person without a trace. Wanley asks Frank if they located the woman. Frank says Mazard had a sweetheart and called on her. A man was there, and she preferred this man over Mazard. Frank says they fought, and he was probably killed by scissors. Frank says that was their theory before, but now something came up. He says that Mazard had a body guard assigned to following him all the time; but that man has disappeared too. Frank discusses possibilities and says the man will not talk because he is a known crook. Frank says he is going to look over the place where they found the body and invites them to go with him. Michael persuades Wanley to go.

            Wanley gets in the back seat of a car with Frank, and at the toll gate they pick up Inspector Jackson (Thomas E. Jackson). Wanley makes up a story how he cut his wrist, and Jackson asks what was in the can because they found poison ivy. Wanley makes up another story about playing golf near poison ivy. They arrive at the scene, and the woman is in another car. Jackson shows where he parked his car and says they have photographs. He says a motorcycle cop saw the car. They go in the woods, and Frank asks Wanley if he is guiding them to the spot. He says he was not thinking where he was going. Jackson explains why he dumped the body at the fence. They got blood from the barb. They talk about the heav weight of the victim, and Wanley says it was at night. They wonder if it was at night. A policeman says they put wood by poison ivy. Frank says Wanley will have to explain that too. They go to talk with the woman, and Wanley goes to sit in the car. Frank asks what is the matter and goes on. Wanley watches them but cannot see the woman well. Frank comes back to the car and says they can go now.

            In the car Wanley asks Frank if he thinks the woman is the one. He asks where they found her, and Frank says they found her in a second-class hotel off Broadway. He says she was cheap looking.

            At home Wanley burns his suit in the fireplace and answers the phone. Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) tells him that his picture was in the Times for being promoted to head the Department of Psychology. He asks if she has heard anything, and she is not worried now. He says he is glad he heard from her, and they say goodnight.

            Alice has a visitor, and Heidt (Dan Duryea) tells her he is a friend of Mazard and to let him in or he will go to the police. She opens the door for him and tells him to say what he needs to and leave. He says there is a reward of $10,000 for information on the murder of Mazard. He has been tailing Mazard for months and tailed him there many times. She objects to his looking around. He says they are looking for a woman, and she is the only one. She says they are not looking for her. He looks in her personal phone book and checks the couch for blood. He finds some brown and black hair and puts it in an envelope. He notices her place is very clean. He opens a drawer and picks up the scissors with his handkerchief. He looks in other drawers and finds the pen with “RW” hidden in a glove. He reaches down to pick up the newspaper, and she asks what he wants. He says she does not want the police checking on her. He says if she gives him $5,000, that would be the end of it. She refuses to pay him. He says Mazard was a rich man, and she must have got something from him. He asks her if she wants to go to the chair. She has a bracelet and offers him $!,000. He says no and demands $5,000 in cash. She says she could ask him to leave. He says she did it because she would have called the cops. She asks for time to get the money. He says he will be back tomorrow night for the cash. He goes out. She calls Wanley and says she must see him right away.

            Wanley and Alice are walking on a street, and he asks what else he found. She says he found his pen. Wanley says they cannot pay because he will ask for more. She asks what they should do. He says they can keep paying him, or theu can call the police and reveal their secret, or they can kill him.

            Wanley asks a pharmacist for the powder to help him sleep and pays for it. He goes to a lobby by elevators and is joined there by Alice. They pretend they do not know each other until no one else is there. She does not think she was followed. He says the police do not know anything about them. He gives her a package with $5,000 and says to tell him to come back for the rest. He explains how to use the drug, and she says there is nothing else they can do. He says it takes effect in twenty minutes, and she should make sure he is out of her apartment. They part.

            At nine Alice is waiting. Heidt rings and tells her to open up. She lets him in. He asks who else is there, and she says nobody. He looks around the apartment. He says she is dolled up and asks if it is for him. She asks him to sit down. She says she has not been able to raise $5,000 yet and asks for more time. She says she has $2,900. He assumes she must have some other idea in mind. He tells her to hand it to him. She can get the rest by tomorrow night. He asks who told her to say that. He counts the money and puts it in his coat. She offers him a drink, and she fixes two drinks of  Scotch and soda. He asks where her boyfriend is, and she says there is none. They sit down with the drinks. He asks why she is giving him the money. She is afraid what they might try to hang on her. He suggests she could get out of the whole thing by going away with him. He says he is not a bad guy. He is the only person who knows that she even knew Mazard and asks her to think about that.

            Wanley paces nervously at home.

            Heidt says they could go to South America. She asks if he has more money than that. He suggests they leave that night. She says she would have to phone people so that police will not think she disappeared. He asks her for a kiss, and she gives him one. He says they will do all right. She hands him his drink, but he declines. She goes to get more ice for it. He asks if she wants him to drink that. He asks her to drink that one, but she does nothing. He orders her and knocks the glass on the floor and slaps her. He asks why she would not drink it. He asks her for the rest of the money and intimidates her. He finds money under a book and the watch with the “CM” initials. She asks him to go now. He tells her to get $5,000 more by tomorrow night and leaves. She calls Wanley and tells him he is gone. He listens to her and does not know what to do. He has not much more collateral. She says she was so scared. He says they are not very skilfull. She asks what she can do now. He says he is too tired to think about it and hangs up. Wanley goes into the bathroom and put several papers of powder in a glass of water.

            Alice hears gunshots, and in the street police arrive. Jackson questions a policeman who says the man started shooting. They find the man unconscious. Jackson says he is their man and finds the money. Alice in the crowd is watching. She runs back to her apartment and calls Wanley. There is no answer, and she asks the operator to help. Wanley is sitting in a chair and opens his eyes but does not answer the phone. He nods off again.

            Charlie tells the sleeping Wanley that it is 10:30. He wakes up and realizes he was asleep and dreaming. He gets his hat and looks at his pen with “RW” on it. He notices that Charlie looks like Mazard and says he is glad to see him alive and in good health. Wanley laughs and goes out. The doorman looks like Heidt. Wanley walks over to the portrait. He sees a woman reflected in the window who asks him for a light. He says no, and runs off.

            This drama shows how a professor and a woman trying to cover up a killing in self-defense might have difficulty keeping what happened unknown. Clues can be found that help police track down the killers. The story is a warning that trying to cover up a killing can be difficult.

Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

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