The Woman in The Window

Written by Joe D on August 23rd, 2007

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Obsessee, obsessor

I worked on restoring Fritz Lang’s Woman In The Window a few years ago with my friends over at Triage Motion Picture Services. For some reason or another ( probably an idiotic executive decision) the original negative had been destroyed. “Abernathy, what are all these old cans taking up all this valuable space at our studio?” “Those are the original negatives of the films the studio produced in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, sir” ” Get rid of that trash!” Anyway in the case of Woman In The Window all that was left was a Fine Grain made in the early 60’s and a nitrate release print from the original 1944 run. I compared the two elements and picked whatever shot was best to create a new negative.
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Joanie B. and Eddie G.

Edward G. Robinson is a college professor who sees a portrait of a woman in the window of a store next to the club where he hangs out with his buddies.
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Fritz Lang in a publicity still from Le Mepris, that’s Godard working the clapper

The woman in the window is the lovely Joan Bennett, she was married to producer Walter Wanger, but I guess he wasn’t wanging her enough so she had an affair with her agent, Jennings Lang. Wanger found out about it and waylaid the two, waiting for them outside their trysting place, Marlon Brando’s Beverly Hills apartment! Walter blasted the agent with two bullets one of which nicked Jennings nutsack. Wanger later said he was aiming for JL’s gonads, he wanted to make him a castrato!

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Herr Lang, Joan Bennett, Walter Wanger

But enough digressions. Woman In The Window is an excellent film, it’s beautifully made and the scene in Joan Bennett’s apartment where Eddie G. kills Bennett’s older jealous sugar daddy is a tour de force, powerful as a nightmare from which you can’t wake up. I’ve often wondered if this scene is so strong because Fritz Lang has been accused by one of his biographers of murdering his first wife in an apartment in Berlin. Is he wrestling with his own demons? His own guilt?

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Then the ultra slimy ( and I mean that as a compliment) Dan Duryea shows up and begins blackmailing Bennett. These scenes are great as well, the beautiful, sexy Joan B. forced to be nice, to pretend she’s attracted to a man she hates, it’s cheap, degrading, sleazy. You’ll love it! The only thing that hasn’t stood the test of time is the ending, I don’t want to give it away but all it needs is a trombone going “Wahhh Wahhh” to really make it bad. In defense of Lang I guess it was a new, novel idea in 1944 and the technique used in the transitional shot is amazing. Without giving it away totally , Edward G. is sitting in a big overstuffed chair in an apartment, the camera tracks in to a tight close up of his face, then it tracks back revealling him in an entirely different location. There’s no dissolve so you know the crew was flying walls in and out, changing furniture, replacing props, all in a few seconds. Really a great effect.

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The Magic Close Up

Back in the mid 70’s I was in LA, I went to UCLA to see a program of Fritz Lang’s American films. It was hosted by the distinguished film critic Charles Champlin. Introducing The Big Heat he made a comment that Lang’s American films were his best work. I took exception to that, Metropolis, M, these are towering giants of world film, among the greatest films ever made! I like Lang’s American stuff but come on! How could this clown say such a thing! Was it American chauvinism or what. So I spoke up and told him what I thought, he tried to dismiss my comments in a rude “you don’t know what you’re talking about” way. Well, Mr. Champlin you were wrong and you’re still wrong.
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I’ll kill you, Charles Champlin
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Edward G. prepares to dump the corpus delecti

During the restoration of this film I noticed a difference between the two versions I was using as source material. In the Nitrate print from the 1940’s there’s a scene where Eddie G. is pulled over by a cop while driving with the body of a dead man in the trunk of his car. The cop asks for his ID and Eddie gives it to him. Upon examining it the cop says ” Wanley huh, what is that Polish” Whereupon an angered Eddie G. snaps back “No, it’s American!” This exchange was excised from the Fine Grain version made in the 60’s maybe because of sensitivity to Polish jokes. They had blown up a shot to get rid of the line by creating a new cutaway. I had to be creative to get it to cut back in but I did it, so if you watch a new release of the film it’s in there. See if you can tell how I did it. In any case it’s a great honor for me to have made an edit in a Fritz Lang Film.
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  1. Shooting Down Pictures » Blog Archive » 907 (48). The Woman in the Window (1944, Fritz Lang)
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