|I watched THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944) for the first time the other night. I enjoyed it immensely except for one thing: the ending.|
WOMAN was directed by Fritz Lang and stars Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea. Lang and those three actors worked together the following year on SCARLET STREET (which I've written about on this blog). I have to say, I liked SCARLET STREET better but that's only because of the ending of WOMAN IN THE WINDOW.
The narratives of the two films have some similarities. Robinson plays a mild-mannered college professor whose wife and children are out-of-town for a brief time. He goes to his private club for dinner and drinks with two friends, one of whom is district attorney Raymond Massey. Outside of the club, Robinson is transfixed by a portrait of a beautiful young woman on display in the window. The object of the painting is, of course, the breathtaking Joan Bennett.
After dinner and drinks, Robinson chooses to remain at the club to read for awhile. He selects a book and settles in his chair with his brandy and cigar and he asks a waiter to awaken him at 10:30 p.m.
The waiter does so and Robinson leaves the club. He stops to once again admire the portrait of Bennett when she unexpectedly appears next to him. They strike up a conversation, go for a drink and eventually wind up back at her apartment. There's nothing sexual going on, just conversation but you can tell Robinson is attracted to Bennett (and who wouldn't be?). Suddenly, a man shows up at the apartment and flies into a murderous rage against Robinson. Robinson kills the man in self defense by stabbing him in the back numerous times with a pair of scissors provided by Bennett. And here's where, as in all classic film noir, things start to go off of the tracks.
Rather than call the police, they decide to cover up the killing and dispose of the body along with almost all of the evidence. Robinson takes the body to a remote area and dumps it but he leaves a long, telltale string of clues. Before you know it, Robinson is accompanying D.A. Massey on his investigation (as an interested observer) and it becomes obvious to Robinson that the police are beginning to suspect him of the crime.
But they're not. They're looking for the dead man's bodyguard who has gone missing. Said bodyguard, played by the supremely unctuous Duryea, shows up at Bennett's apartment and tells her he knows all about her affair with his wealthy boss. He puts the squeeze on Bennett and Robinson for $5,000. They give it to him but he wants more.
Robinson, convinced there's no way out of the predicament he's put himself into, decides to commit suicide. He takes an overdose and begins to drift off. At the same time, the police corner Duryea, a shootout ensues and Duryea is killed. Incriminating evidence is found on his body and the police decide they have their killer. Bennett runs back to her apartment to phone Robinson to let him know the good news but it's too late. Robinson is already dead.
That's a helluva ending to one helluva film. Trouble is, it's not the ending. As the phone rings, a hand appears from off camera and shakes Robinson awake. He's in his chair at the club where he has been dreaming all of this time. The waiter tells him it's 10:30 p.m. Robinson leaves the club, passing the hat check man and doorman. The hat check man is the man he killed in his dream, while Duryea is the doorman. It's like the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ when Dorothy says, "and you, and you, and you were all there!" Robinson ends up looking at Bennett's portrait in the window. When a floozy comes up and asks for a light, Robinson runs down the street and into the night.
The "it-was-all-a-dream" ending was forced onto Lang by the studio. According to the motion picture code that was in effect at the time, it was forbidden to show someone getting away with murder in a film. Murderers must always be punished in some way and since Robinson got away with murder (although the case can be made that he was well and truly punished by the taking of his own life), the code insisted that the ending be amended to show that everything was only a dream.
This ending only slightly mars what is otherwise a terrific, tight and taut exercise in suspense. If you watch THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, turn it off (or walk out) as soon as Robinson takes the overdose. You won't miss anything after that. Recommended.