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The movie from the Noir Era I watched was ‘The Woman In The Window’ directed by Fritz Lang in 1944. The movie has all the characteristics of Noir film, ‘pessimism’, ‘suspicion’, ‘futility’, and ‘entrapment’. Noir films center characters were usually driven or based on an important moment of their past or the weakness of humans doomed to repeat their previous mistakes. Many movies of this era featured a ‘gangster’ ambiance, or a murder doomed to be found out. Something that brings all of the characters to a standoff, never hinting to how it will end.
Or who will come out victorious at the end, if any of them would. Fritz Lang was one of many directors who took the world by storm with his noir films, along side John Huston, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder and Edward Dmytryk. All of their iconic movies shared a very blatant and obvious violent tone. Fritz Lang was born in Vienna in !890 and lived until 1976. His movies played a massive roll in the Noir Era.
The intro to ‘The Woman In The Window’ features the well known Edward G. Robinson. In the movie he plays Richard Wanly. His Character is a Psychology Professor who is discussing the motivations usually behind homicides. He quotes the bible clearly with one of the most evident 10 commandments ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’. Edward G. Robinsons character is that of an uptight or ‘proper’ professor demeanor. In the intro to the 1944 movie we come to find out that Richard Wanly is a married man with children who are about to leave him and travel.
It then cuts to him with two of his friends a “District Attorney’ Played by Raymond Massey and a ‘Physician’ Played by Edmund Breon. It seems from the start of The movie that Richard wanly is doomed to fall into his urges of committing the perfect murder. his knowledge of psychology and human behavior seemingly should play a big part in help you would handle said situation. after leaving his two friends Raymond and Edmond he bumps into ‘that alluring woman in the window next door’. After being reminded that it is 10;30 PM Richard wanly leaves the ‘Mens club’ and begins to make his way home where he takes a moment to stop and look at the woman’s portrait in the window. The lighting effectively highlighting her as an important character in the window considering she is in fact the woman in the window. While admiring the young woman’s portrait he sees her reflection beside the painting and quickly turns to see her standing there. She seems to be familiar with his stunned expression. The ‘woman in the window ‘is Joan Bennett who plays the character of Alice Reed a very attractive young woman in whom Richard wanly becomes acquainted. After a brief conversation he returned to her home to review sketches that were made along with the portrait he had been admiring. While he was there a man by the presumed name of Frank. Clearly Alice Reed does not know much about this man or if even this is his real name. the man attacks Richard and he is forced to stop the man with a pair of scissors that Alice gives to him this is where the story turns dark and they are forced to work together after only known each other for a short amount of time. Bennett’s character Alice is a very elegant and well put together woman who is clearly after gaining the attention of many men including Wanly after the murder she seems quite afraid and skittish of what might come and demands for Richard to leave his vest to assure that she will not be blamed solely for the murder if he decided not to return with the car like he had promised. Considering that this movie has many characteristics of the Noir era it is not uncommon for viewers to speculate the Alice is not as innocent as she seems.
Both of the characters of Raymond Massey and Edmund Breon both seem to have a higher and clearer moral compass in comparison to Richard Wanly. His clear interest in homicides in general makes this whole situation have a more strange or dark theme.
In the movie Alice Reed fits all the characteristics of a Femme Fatale who is caught in a situation with Richard Wanly. Much like Billy Wilders ‘Double Indemnity’ it features a pair of people, man and woman who have only just met caught up in a murder situation while Richard is too close to the detectives. During the movie after Richard Wanly had dumped Franks body he is talking with his friends who are discussing Franks disappearance neither seeming too bothered by the fact. Richard Wanly immediately slips up questioning who ‘murdered’ him despite no one previously having mentioned it being a murder. All of the detectives seemingly joking point their fingers at Richard due to many different circumstances such’s as his sloppiness with his words, the cut on his finger, the poison ivy and slipping up at the crime scene by questioning just how many details the police had gathered about Frank.
When it comes to visual style Fritz’ The Woman In The Window has the recognizable harsh lighting, dimly lit streets, woman highlighted to keep attention, harsh lighting during scenes of intense or important moments, different angles of lighting to cast obscure shadows on people’s faces or objects. The Woman In The Window is in black and white and Fritz Lang makes great use of the lighting and angles to put across his points. Especially in scenes such as the murder or when Richard Wanly has been awoken and is walking down the dimly lit street once again admiring the woman in the window the lighting is used to perfectly highlight the woman’s portrait and Richard Wanlys face, He is dazed and confused and quickly runs from a woman. The iconic dimly lit scenes of the Noir Era is a staple in the industry when it comes to giving off the violent or gangster like ambiance, in almost every scene the lighting plays a major element.
‘The Woman In The Window’ features a few typical Noir themes such as moral corruption, guilt, desperation and paranoia. These themes can be identified through out but mainly as the first couple of scenes unfold. The character with the most moral corruption is most evidently Richard Wanly closely followed by the infamous femme fatale Alice Reed who isn’t actually the damsel in distress she appears to be in the moments of pure panic after Frank has been murdered in self-defense by Richard. Richard also had many moments of paranoia specifically when Lalor kept him up to date with the investigation, while Richard watched him get closer to the truth his paranoia grew day by day to the point, he almost got himself caught a few times. Another character with a moral compass that is clearly corrupt is Heidt. Franks bodyguard who shows up to Reeds home in an attempt to black mail her. Alice tries to kill him by poisoning his drink but unfortunately it is no use and he catches on and abruptly robs her and vows he will return for more.
At the end of the movie it has all come to a head where Alice’s connection to Frank has been found out by Heidt who robs and threatens her, while being on the run for a crime he had committed previously to becoming Franks bodyguard. Alice Reed then calls Richard Wanly to inform him of her failure to poison him and how he would return for more money. The guilt of killing Frank and his attempt to help kill Heidt was taking a major toll on Richard. Being so close to Lalor in the investigation and most likely watching his faith of being caught become so close many times was very clearly draining to him. Once he learns of Alice’s failure he decides to commit suicide. It then shows a gun fight between Heidt and the police leaving him dead and the police assuming he had killed Frank. Reed calls Richard to let him know they would be ok, but it was too late. Once it was believed Richard had died he is shaken awake by the butler who he had asked at the start of the movie to wake him at 10;30 pm. Richard quickly realizes the awful ordeal had been a dream quickly gathering his things and leaving the building, in the dimly lit street he stares at the portrait and becomes startled when a woman asks him for a light for her cigarette resulting in Wanly running off. This ending was unusual to Noir movies leaving no one victorious in particular but It all being concluded as a dream. Overall Fritz Lang’s ‘The Woman in the Window’ held many of the noir characteristics, lighting and visual styles, the themes and character behaviors. The actors and director all helped it fit perfectly into the noir category and it is very deserving to be of important names in this era.
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