Monday, September 17, 2012

Jimmy Stewart, or a child?

TCM is running "Bob's Picks" tonight, even though as far as I know Ben Mankiewicz is going to be presenting them. One that's quite good despite being a "little" picture is The Window, which comes on overnight at 1:45 AM.

The scene is the tenements of New York City during one incredibly hot summer. Young Bobby Driscoll stars as Tommy, a kid who has a penchant for lying, so much so that it's caused problems for people around him, especially his parents (Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy). In fact, Dad is so sick of Tommy's lying that he'd be willing to keep the kid in his room without his supper until Tommy starts telling the truth.

This being a hot summer, and being the era before air conditioning became commonplace, the tenements heat up like an oven, so Tommy asks his parents if he can take his mattress out to the fire escape and sleep on the fire escape. The parents relent, and Tommy goes out on the fire escape, where he also decides to play peeping Tom, heading up one flight of stairs and looking through the window into the apartment above. What he sees shocks him: the couple in the apartment (Ruth Roman and Paul Kelly) have taken advantage of a drunken serviceman, and in trying to get his money off of him they strangle the poor guy!

You can figure out the next part of the plot. Tommy, having seen the murder and being horrified by it (and having to beat a hasty retreat when the murderers try to take the body down the fire escape -- at least he's not trapped in a wheelchair with a broken leg and his camera), decides to tell his parents that he saw a murder. But because he's been a constant liar, there's no way his parents are going to believe him; not only that, but his telling them about the murder is going to make them even angrier: after all, haven't they told him a million times to stop lying? Once again, it's off to the bedroom for poor Tommy

Tommy tries to make things better in what is really a reasonable way: he runs off via the fire escape to go to the police station and tell them that he's seen a murder, which we viewers know is the truth since we've seen it too. The police have to investigate, but the evidence is gone, and with Tommy's reputation preceding him, it's easy to presume that Tommy is just crying "Wolf!" one more time. This one is particularly embarrassing for Tommy's parents, as the police have brought Tommy and his mother upstairs to have Tommy apologize to the couple.

As you can imagine, this also causes another problem. Our not-so-nice couple upstairs, whom we know to be cold-blooded murderers, are now aware that they've got a witness to the murder they committed, even if nobody actually believes the witness! What are murderers to do? They have to come up with something plausible, and are helped by the fact Tommy's parents have both had to go away for the night, leaving Tommy all alone for a night (something that wasn't terribly rare in the late 1940s, even though today's helicopter parents would be shocked by it). Roman and Stewart decide to force Tommy to fake a note saying he's run away, which would give them the pretense needed to kidnap him and presumably kill poor Tommy. Tommy's going to have to be resourceful if he wants to save his life....

The Window is quite the little movie. In fact, about the only problem it has is down to the Production Code: you know that murderers can't get away with it in a movie from that era; this makes the movie in part an exercise in seeing just how the murderers get what's coming to them. Still, Driscoll does an excellent job as the kid nobody will believe (and deservedly so), and Stewart is quite good as the murderer who needs to be cold-blooded.

The Window has received a DVD release through the Warner Archive, which is as usual a double-edged sword: it's good that it's finally available on DVD, but a shame that it's so pricey.

No comments: