The Window is one of those lesser-known films noir that received critical acclaim at the time of its release, but has since fallen to the wayside for most movie viewers.
Based on a short story “The Boy Cried Murder” by Cornell Woolrich, the plot is essentially a variation on the old proverb about the boy who cried wolf. In this case, a young boy named Tommy Woodry (played by Bobby Driscoll), who has the unfortunate habit of making wild stories up, happens to notice the upstairs neighbors in their rundown New York tenement building, well … killing someone. He observes this through … you guessed it—the window. Specifically, the window next to their fire escape, which is where Tommy happens to be at the time.
When Tommy tries to report this sighting, given his history with tall tales, it’s little surprise that no one believes him. Neither the police nor his parents are buying his story. In fact, Mrs. Woodry (played by a maternal-looking Barbara Hale) gets so mad at Tommy’s repeated allegations, that she threatens to take a brush to him. As in corporal punishment.
Then to make matters even worse, Mother Woodry tries dragging her kid upstairs to apologize to the Kellersons (they’re the ones Tommy saw offing the victim) after the police come calling, which only throws suspicion on the kid and places him in extreme danger. The tension created in this scenario becomes nearly unbearable when Tommy is left alone, because Mr. Woodry (played by Arthur Kennedy) works a night job and the Missus must leave town to care for a sick relative. Needless to say, this is when the killers try to, um, “terminate Tommy with extreme prejudice.”
Along with being a highly suspenseful film noir, this movie is aptly named. Not only does a child witness a murder through a window, but the film itself provides a window into some of the mores of childrearing in the tenements of New York and during the late 1940s.
First, the use of corporal punishment speaks to a time in which adults favored the “spare the rod, spoil the child” approach to parenting. Second, the almost cavalier way Tommy is left to fend for himself is a marked contrast to the modern phenomenon of “helicopter parenting”. But in the big city tenements, the concept of latchkey children was nothing new.
As I said, the film was highly lauded by critics, receiving three award nominations and one win—the Edgar. And Bobby Driscoll was awarded a miniature Oscar statuette for outstanding juvenile actor of 1949.
I’d also like to add that Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman both play the “killing Kellersons” with just the right amount of desperation and menace.
An excellent gem from the film noir period! I highly recommend it.