Film Noir Features – January 2021

A mild-mannered professor, alone in the city while his family is away, is captivated by a painting of a beautiful young woman in a window display.  Thus, starts a series of events that, will thrust him into a nightmare of lust, blackmail, and murder.  The man is played by brilliant Edward G. Robinson, the femme fatale by the beautiful Joan Bennet. The movie is director Fritz Lang’s “The Woman in the Window” (1944).  It is one of the movies featured this month on “Film Noir Features” a weekly double-feature of classics of the genre selected from the MGM library every Tuesday night on MGM HD.

Lang, who began his career in his native Germany, was one of the pioneers of Film Noir.  He was also a master of cinematic German expressionism, in which themes of violence, betrayal and moral conflict were explored.  Character inner-turmoil was reflected in mood, lighting and set design.  These elements formed the bedrock of Film Noir.  After fleeing the Nazi’s in the 1930’s he was offered a job by David O. Selznick to make movies for MGM.  In Hollywood, Lang turned his eye to the seedy underbelly of American life and viewed it in a way only an outsider could.

“The Woman in the Window” is a fine example of his work in the United States. While Joan Bennet is a classic American beauty, the male actors almost seem cast for their non-movie star qualities and looks.  Neither Edward G. Robinson‘s Professor Wanley, a psychologist interested in the criminal mind, nor his friend played by Raymond Massey as District Attorney Frank Lalor would be confused with Cary Grant or Gary Cooper. They are ordinary, middle-aged men who discuss ordinary middle-aged man problems.  The acting is superb and natural in a way that seems decades ahead of its time.

However, once Robinson’s character enters the nocturnal word of darkness and shadow, we see Fritz Lang’s expressionist technique come into play.  Watch for the surreal way in which Joan Bennet’s character enters the picture, almost as an apparition.  When the action moves to Miss. Bennett’s apartment, take a close look at the production design and see how Lang uses the set to tell his story: mirrors on her walls suggest Mr. Robinson may have gone “through the looking glass,” while the pattern around her fireplace indicates that he has entered an incomprehensible maze of intrigue. To watch “The Woman in the Window” is to watch a craftsman in full command of his powers.

All month long, enjoy the works of great directors on “Film Noir Features,” like Billy Wilder‘s courtroom drama “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957) with the incomparable Marlene Dietrich and the final on-screen performance by Tyrone Power.  There are also early outings from future masters like Stanley Kubrick’s dark and atmospheric “Killer’s Kiss” (1955) and Roman Polanski’s tense “Cul-de-Sac” (1966).  Compare their films to that of their elder’s work.

Stay up late for “Film Noir Features” every Tuesday night at Midnight Eastern, 9p Pacific on MGM HD.