When I was a teenage movie buff (hey, maybe some fresh new classic blogger should give the title I Was a Teenage Movie Buff a good home in some nice warm blog, if someone hasn’t already done so! But I digress….), I mostly knew who Fritz Lang was because of Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). It wasn’t until years later that I learned more about director/writer/producer Lang’s body of work. But once I finally had the opportunity to see these suspense dramas, both of them produced by Walter Wanger (Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 thriller Foreign Correspondent) and his beautiful and talented wife Joan Bennett, both films grabbed me and held me riveted to the TV, intrigued by those films’ similarities and differences! Also, both movies had Milton Krasner as Director of Photography (All About Eve, The Set-Up, the Oscar-winning Three Coins in the Fountain) but H.J. Salter composed the SS score, while TWitW was scored by Arthur Lang and an uncredited Hugo Friedhoffer, Charles Maxwell, and Bruno Mason.
The Prize (1963), and Robinson’s final role, in Soylent Green (1973), which particularly touched my heart. This time around, we’ll be seeing Robinson’s sensitive side as Our Man Eddie finds himself becoming putty in the hands of dangerous dames and conniving crooks! Where’s his sensible, fearless Double Indemnity character Barton Keyes when you need him?
Both TWitW and SS are set in my hometown, New York City, and both films have the same three stars: Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea. Taken at face value, it looks as if the leads in TWitW and SS are more or less playing the same character archetypes:
- Our man Edward G. Robinson as a kind, dignified older gent whose quiet life is turned upside-down when he finds himself infatuated with a pretty young woman who may or may not make a chump out of him. Talk about “middle-age crazy!”
- Joan Bennett as a beautiful young woman of negotiable affections, as Vinnie would say. She was a member of the renowned Bennett acting family, which included dad Richard Bennett, sister Constance Bennett of Topper fame, and younger sister Barbara Bennett of The Valley of Decision. Joan’s long, successful career included silent films; the 1933 version of Little Women; our director Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt (1941); Father of the Bride (1950), with Joan as the mother of bride-to-be Elizabeth Taylor and the wife of comically beleaguered Spencer Tracy, followed by the sequel Father’s Little Dividend (1951); Dark Shadows on TV and in the feature film House of Dark Shadows; and Dario Argento’s giallo horror classic Suspiria (1977). She started her acting career as a blonde, but I think our Joan always looked best as a brunette, whether she played good girls or shady ladies.
- Dan Duryea as a sleazy opportunist who’s not above blackmail and violence to get what he wants. For most of his long career, Duryea excelled at playing Guys We Love to Hate in such classics as Ball of Fire and Criss Cross (no relation to Robinson’s character in SS, but do read and enjoy our friend and fellow blogger John Greco’s stellar review at his blog Twenty-Four Frames!) A native of White Plains, New York (just a short drive from the Bronx neighborhood where I lived for much of my youth!), Duryea’s character actor career was born when he became a Broadway star in the original stage versions of Dead End and The Little Foxes, the latter starring the great Tallulah Bankhead. The Little Foxes also became Duryea’s Hollywood debut; this time he played opposite another powerhouse star, the great Bette Davis! Despite his usual roles as rotters and bounders, Duryea was by all accounts a nice guy in real life (indeed, he’d been a scoutmaster and a PTA parent!),
|Dashing young Fritz Lang
The Woman in the Window (1944)Versatile writer/producer/director Nunnally Johnson brought audiences such classic films as The Grapes of Wrath, The Three Faces of Eve, The Gunfighter, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and How to Marry a Millionaire. He proved to be quite adept at film noir with The Woman in the Window (TWitW), based on J.H. Wallis’ novel Once Off Guard. Wanger and Bennett had been feeling stifled at Universal, so along with Lang, they joined forces to create their production company Diana, named after their daughter, providing Lang with the artistic freedom he craved. It was the first time that Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea had worked together. TWitW was set mostly in Manhattan, with side trips to the Henry Hudson Parkway, leading from Manhattan to the Bronx to Westchester County, near where our family lived at the time. The scene in question involves our desperate heroes trying to ditch a corpse—but I’m getting ahead of myself! (I assure you it wasn’t nearly as scary when we actually lived there!) Our protagonist is Assistant Professor Richard Wanley (Robinson), who we first see lecturing about “Some Psychological Aspects of Homicide” at the fittingly named Gotham College. Somehow I get the feeling our hero’s knowledge on this particular topic has more to do with book smarts than street smarts! Although it’s clear that Richard truly loves his wife and kids, he and his friends are nevertheless “summer bachelors” in the city while their wives and kids head for the country for fresh air and sunshine. But when the fam’s away, will the husbands stray? Is it beer o’clock and the boys are buying? Richard, for one, is perfectly happy to take it easy at his men’s club with a good book.
|Richard was gonna read
King Solomon's Mines,
but this is more fun!
|What a picture: Still Life with Horndog
|I honestly didn't know where this joke came from --
the hubby had to show me!
|Look who's playing Eddie G's son:
fellow Little Rascal Bobby Blake!
|What a crazy party! Mama told me not to come!
George “Spanky” McFarland of The Little Rascals/Our Gang has an uncredited role in TWitW, but it’s my favorite bit in the movie! He plays the Boy Scout in the newsreel who makes the gruesome discovery…
“I was practicing woodcraft in the woods just off the Bronx River Parkway Extension when I found Mr. Mazard’s remains. No, I was not scared. A Boy Scout is never scared. If I get the reward, I will send my younger brother to some good college, and I will go to Harvard.”
|"Honest, dude, this isn't the WWE tryouts!"
Frank is on the case, and he brings Richard along, saying it’ll be an interesting adventure. But is he really trying to trap Richard, or is it plain old paranoia? It doesn’t help that our hero keeps slipping up and innocently commenting on incriminating evidence. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen TWitW, but I will say the denouement either leaves audiences relieved, laughing, or furious. SPOILER-ISH: Personally, I like it, if only because I’m a sucker for a funny, upbeat ending!
|Venerable film icon Fritz Lang
Named in honor of Greenwich Village’s famous Carmine Street, one of the world’s most celebrated art meccas, it’s almost a miracle that SS was able to be shown in neighborhood theaters at all back in 1945! It was initially banned in New York, Milwaukee, and Atlanta for fear that its “obscene, immoral, inhuman, sacrilegious” subject matter might turn decent moviegoers everywhere into hordes of hooligans. In any case, SS eventually got away with minor cuts, and Joe and Josie Average could watch it in their hometown bijou and make up their own minds about the flick.
|I like the stylized artwork here; perfect for phony Kitty!
Kitty and Johnny were lovers—and layabouts,
too busy with their “mad love” schtick to check
Chris’ bank account and see if he’s rich enough to sponge off of.
|Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Chris' dignity?
The brunette’s name is Katherine “Kitty” Marsh, a slightly naïve yet bold and beguiling brunette whose hints of tawdriness go sailing over Chris’ poor innocent head. For a tawdry dame, she sure has a smart Travis Banton wardrobe, especially after Chris becomes her sugar daddy. (For some reason, the IMDb doesn’t show Travis Banton’s SS screen credit, but you can read Christian Esquevin’s great 2010 “Batty for Banton” post over at Silver Screen Modiste!) Flattering our Gent of a Certain Age, Kitty coos, “You’re not so old…You’re not a boy, you’re just mature.” As they share a drink at local watering hole Tiny’s, Chris unwittingly talks about his love of painting in ways that mislead Kitty into thinking Chris is a man of financial means, and persuades Chris to get a gorgeous pad on the titular street that he can use to paint in peace. What’s more, the joint used to belong to renowned artist Diego Rivera, no less (including pictures he drew randomly around the house)!
Part of me wanted to hug Chris because I felt badly for him, while another side of me wanted to shake him by the shoulders, yelling, “Dude, snap out of it! That dame is trouble! Scram outta there and stay out, before it’s too late!” Besotted Chris doesn’t realize that the ruffian he smacked with his umbrella also happens to be the ironically-named Johnny Prince (Duryea), who happens to be Kitty’s boyfriend, though Kitty’s passing Johnny off as her friend/roomie Millie’s beau when Chris is around. People will say they’re in love, though the understandably cynical Millie (Margaret Lindsay from Jezebel; Bordertown; The Dragon Murder Case; The House of the Seven Gables; and the Ellery Queen movies of the 1940s) begs to differ, since it’s clear to her that Kitty and Johnny, shall we say, like it rough (maybe Kitty had an abusive childhood):
Millie: “That guy pushes you around the way I wouldn’t push a cat around.”
Kitty: “You wouldn’t know love it if hit you in the face.”
Millie (as Kitty storms out): “If that’s where it hits you, you oughta know!”
|The look of love? Not for conniving Kitty!
|Wonder if this toenail-painting scene
gave Kevin Smith the idea for Clerks?
Decision: If you like your Fritz Lang film noirs with a spoonful of hope, chances are you'll love The Woman in the Window. If you like your Fritz Lang noirs dark, with wry gallows humor, head for Scarlet Street.
See, there's something for everyone!
Bonus! !: George "Spanky" McFarland's show-stealing moment in The Woman in the Window!