Director: Fritz Lang
Writer: Nunnally Johnson; based on Once Off Guard by J. H. Wallis
Cinematographer: Milton R. Krasner
Producer: Nunnally Johnson
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Alice catches whiff of the illogic. She asks why he wouldn’t just go to the police and get the ten thousand dollars. Heidt reveals that he knows that she was involved with the murder, and so either she pays him, or he tells the police what he knows. The best part is that the scene ends without answering the question. Again, why would he not just ask for $10,000 from Alice? She immediately realizes that even if she somehow escapes the police, there’s no incentive to ever keep Heidt from blackmailing her when she couldn't pay off the next demand; it creates a great sense of what all noirs explore - inevitable demise.
Alice asks Richad to help him with the payment, explaining that he is at least partially to blame for the incident. By now Richad has been hearing the case’s progress from Frank and piecing together not just the details, but the methodology. In a calm and articulate manner he explains that they’re left with three options - keep paying Heidt until they’re broke; tell the police and confess; or kill Heidt altogether. Richard decides to pick up some poison at the pharmacy, shot in a long take at the counter where we watch details unfold - Richard writing his name down in a ledger; the pharmacist warning about possible death; and Richard’s overall tough guy rudeness.
Richard hands off the poison at Alice’s apartment who meets Heidt upstairs. All dolled up, she welcomes Heidt inside and explains that she doesn’t have all the money; hoping he’d take half of what he asked. He agrees and she offers him a drink; moving on into the kitchen where we watch her use a double sided glass jigger, pouring the first shot into one side laced with the poison, then flipping the jigger and pouring herself a portion with the clean side. She proceeds to make two delicious looking scotch and sodas as Heidt moves in behind her, explaining his general cynicism.The tension begins to mount and they head back to the couches, allowing you to revisit the scene and discover further complexities.
In a brilliant exchange that I’ve had to watch four times to fully understand, Heidt somehow is able to ask about Richard and uses Alice’s response about not wanting to talk to the guy that everything is then “kosher”; wondering why if everything’s so great she wouldn’t just keep the money and deal with the cops. Alice expresses her own cynicism in refusing to believe the corrupt cops could help her in any way without cooking up a story. When considered, the leap makes no close to no sense, and yet that’s the precise power of Fritz Lang; allowing the character’s body language to express ideas and allow the dialogue to remain more nuanced, or even abstract.
Heidt requests that Alice runs off with him instead, even going so far as to return the money, then explaining that all she had to do was look in the mirror to understand why. He too is overwhelmed with her beauty, willing to behave foolishly at a shot with her. Most impressive is Joan Bennett’s ability to either feign or actually express confusion while maintaining the same smooth tone. She returns to the kitchen to add some ice to Hedit’s drink, then returns, trying to hand it back to him. In a brilliant and intense static two shot, where not even the characters move, we watch as Heidt’s doubt rises, fully aware that she had poisoned the drink. He then points a finger toward her, which she can’t see through the glass, his voice picking up, the two remain absolutely still, and then he flicks the glass out of her hand, slaps her across the face, and tosses her onto the bed. I’m left struggling who else could have pulled off such an incredible and tight rise and shift in character, all without moving little beyond the eyes and pointer finger.
He finds and takes the remaining $5,000, then demands that she call up Richard once again and get another $5,000 and so the con begins. We never know whether which parts of the plan were discussed with Richard; whether Alice simply intended to try and buy Heidt off with the five grand and split with the rest, or whether it was all a performance by Alice to try and use her looks to seduce and kill Hedit.
Alice calls up Richard, explaining the situation, and Richard calls it quits. He either knows he can’t, or doesn’t have the money, then hangs up as she shouts for help. Richard takes a slow walk to the rear of his apartment, where he enters a bathroom, and removes the poison. Back to Alice, she lies on the bed, head buried in her arm and rear toward us - an image which provides a strange feeling of lust and empathy; as though Lang knew that, like the other men, we the viewers might also sacrifice our better judgment to accommodate her wishes. She’s startled by gunshots, and Lang cuts again to outside the apartment where, in a wide, we see the police in the middle of the wet streets, caught in a shootout. What begins with one police car in the frame soon fills with another as people then enter in the frame from all directions.
We learn that the police had shot down Heidt; discovering the money in his suit jacket, along with the diamond plated medallion with the initials “C.M.” Heidt had stolen from Alice; which Claude Mazard had left behind. One of the street cops had seen Heidt the night before, approached the man, who then opened fire.
Alice finds a phone and calls Richard. He’s shown in a chair, nodding off, with the poison taking effect as the phone rings. In one of the film’s best shots, the camera pushes in slowly, from a wide to an extreme close up, the ring fading off in the background and the image distorting around the edges. We assume we’re watching Richard die and then a hand enters the frame, attempting to wake Richard up. It’s one of the servers from his club. The whole thing was a dream. Richard leaves and heads outside, finding the same painting still there. Alice’s image appears over the glass and a woman’s voice speaks offscreen, asking for a light. Richard turns around and discovers a blonde and attractive, though different woman. He refuses to assist her in a humorous hurry and moves on.
It’s cliche to even mention the resentment most feel for stories that were “all a dream.” Identity (2003) might be the greatest movie ever made which had been ruined by the result. However, Woman in the Window is more along the lines of “A Christmas Carol”; in which we never quite know whether it was all a dream or not. In Richard's case, we struggle with the same; never quite sure it was all a dream, he exists in some form of purgatory where the fantasy repeats again and again, or if he did, in fact, die; finding an after life that allowed him to re-decide his choice. If pressed, I’d say that it was all a dream; serving as a type cautionary tale for men who wish to wander beyond the nest. Yet given the depth in most of Lang’s work, I’m not completely unwilling to give up the eternal recurrence of hell; there’s something about the dreamlike photography that makes it feel like an artificial incubus; a bit claustrophobic, and with limited places to hide. It’s a movie where the feeling alone is warning enough; as the story is supplemental to the images. It’s one of noir’s best.
BELOW: Little else in the way of YouTube so here's the trailer
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