Taut, tense, and terrific, Ted Tetzlaff’s The Window is an unassuming little film noir that frays the nerves and chills the blood.
The Production: 4/5
Taut, tense, and terrific, Ted Tetzlaff’s The Window is an unassuming little film noir that frays the nerves and chills the blood. Slightly budgeted but wonderfully atmospheric, this RKO programmer runs a scant 73 minutes, but not a second of that run time is wasted in setting up our main characters, getting the conflict well established, and then letting the ensuing cat and mouse hunt between child and killer ensue. This new Warner Archive Blu-ray release milks every moment of tension out of its shuddery, shadowy narrative.
Tommy Woodry (Bobby Driscoll) is an only child whose imagination frequently runs away with him, much to the chagrin of his hard-working parents (Arthur Kennedy, Barbara Hale) who have long since tired of his fanciful stories, one of which almost gets them evicted from their tenement. One sweltering night while trying to fall asleep on the fire escape, Tommy witnesses the murder of a drunken seaman (Richard Benedict) in the flat just over his own inhabited by the Kellersons (Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman). With his parents assuming it’s just another figment of his overactive imagination and even the police giving his claims only the barest of attention, the boy is convinced the Kellersons will attempt to dispose of him just as they did the sailor. And on a night when Mrs. Woodry must be away with a sick sister and Mr. Woodry must be at work, Tommy is left all alone, locked in his room with the Kellersons plotting his demise one floor above.
Based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, the screenplay by Mel Dinelli is all meat and potatoes with no frilly enhancements to slow down its forward momentum, the sweltering Manhattan summer heat almost palpable in this era where almost no one had air conditioners in the home and certainly not the poor people here who have to use the phone at the corner drug store to make a family call. And he’s included some momentary sequences that set up the tension to come: we see Tommy early on worming his way around an abandoned and dilapidated tenement building (where the final chase will occur), and he also gets our hopes up when a police detective visits the Kellersons after the boy’s accusations, snooping around but finding believable explanations from the Kellersons for everything that the boy had deemed suspicious. Director Ted Tetzlaff can’t hide the movie’s slight budget in the climactic scenes where the boy eludes his would-be killers on empty RKO backlot streets, but the final faceoff between Tommy and Kellerson in the crumbling tenement remains a classic cat and mouse encounter where the boy, without any weapon or means of protection, must use the extended shadows and his own knowledge of the building’s nooks and crannies to give himself a chance of escape (there’s also a nasty shock awaiting Tommy – and us – in one of those nooks). There are some long shots and some odd angled shots that are astonishing as staircases collapse and timbers groan and moan, all of which add to the terrific atmosphere of danger and potential death that hangs over the film during its final half hour.
Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy both underplay their roles as the concerned but increasingly exasperated mother and father to the troubled Tommy thus allowing Bobby Driscoll’s driven performance to be all the more effective. It earned the twelve-year old a miniature Oscar for Best Juvenile Performance, greatly deserved and likely the highlight of the tragic young actor’s career. Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman both exude desperate menace as the killers, and Stewart doesn’t have to be twirling a dastardly mustache to radiate a real threat to the boy’s life (he even slugs him in a shocking moment in a taxi). Anthony Ross is quietly effective as the police detective who decides to check out the boy’s wild story posing as a building inspector to gain entrance to the murder apartment.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully conveyed in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Black levels are the transfer’s most important and unquestionably critical asset, and they’re most impressive with no crushed details in the shadows. Sharpness is excellent (a couple of long shots that appear soft look to be part of the original cinematography). Contrast is superb throughout, and there are no distracting scratches, splices, tears, or reel cues. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is all one would hope it would be. Dialogue has been recorded professionally, and it has been mixed with Roy Webb’s background music and the assorted sound effects with surety. There are no problems with hiss, crackle, flutter, or pops intruding on the suspense which has been so craftily threaded throughout the film’s brief running time.
Special Features: 0/5
There are no bonus features on the disc, not even a theatrical trailer.
Ted Tetzlaff’s unpretentious little noir thriller The Window has come to Blu-ray with a beautifully rendered image and with strong mono sound by Warner Archive. It comes with a hearty recommendation!
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