In the mood for something seedy, paranoid, devilish, but still light-hearted? Look no farther than this week’s pick for “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” over at The Film Experience: Fritz Lang’s fantastic film noir The Woman in the Window (1944). It stars the always-great Edward G. Robinson (Little Caesar, Double Indemnity, etc.) as a middle-aged psychology professor who gets involved with the foxy Joan Bennett, the titular woman in the window. One thing leads to another, and next thing you know, he’s following a murder investigation that could end up sending him to the chair.
Both Ashley and I picked favorite shots for this movie, and both involved the sequence where Robinson and Bennett systematically hide the body of the hot-blooded Claude Mazard. It’s a crucial scene, as they deposit all the clues that the police will interpret throughout the film, and Lang shoots it with all the expressionistic lighting he can muster to heighten the mood. For example, Ashley’s “best shot” was this glimpse of Bennett wrapped in shadow:
She’s escaping under cover of night, and trying to avoid any cops’ (or audience members’) prying eyes. But the streak of light on her arm gives her away. Even though The Woman in the Window backs out of its fatalistic attitude with a pretty cheap twist at the end, these scenes are suffused with raw fear. That’s what you get when you murder a man in Fritz Lang’s part of the universe. (If you want a Lang noir that never backs down, though, 1945’s Scarlet Street is basically the same movie, only far more pessimistic and full of erotic obsession.)
Soon thereafter, Edward G. Robinson is driving off into the wilderness to get rid of the body. That’s when we get my favorite shot of the film:
I love how we get two parallel worlds here, with the glimpse outside the car on top, and Mazard’s dead face on the bottom. Robinson’s giving a quick look around, just in case, while Mazard lies in swath of light as if silently screaming, “Look at me! I’m a dead body!” The image’s composition confirms all of Robinson’s worst fears, both by calling attention to the corpse and implicitly assigning blame for his death to that face in the window. (Worse yet, Mazard’s dead eyes are tilted upward.)
Edward G. Robinson being presented in profile also subtly heightens our panic, since he’s gazing off-screen at something we can’t see… but can easily imagine. But what else would you expect from Fritz Lang, who conjured up some of the cinema’s worst nightmares? We should just be grateful that The Woman in the Window is an experience we can wake up from.