FINGERS AT THE WINDOW(director: Charles Lederer; screenwriters: from a story by Rose Caylor/Lawrence P. Bachmann; cinematographers: Charles Lawton/Harry Stradling; editor: George Boemler; cast: Lew Ayres (Oliver Duffy), Laraine Day (Edwina Brown), Basil Rathbone (Dr. H. Santelle), Charles D. Brown (Inspector Gallagher), Walter Kingsford (Dr. Cromwell), Miles Mander (Dr. Kurt Immelman); Runtime: 80; MGM; 1942)
“This is the kind of picture actors do when they need work.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A snappy B-film thriller, excellently paced for broad sweeps of comedy and fright. Lew Ayres is the film’s star who says in a magazine interview, “this is the kind of picture actors do when they need work.” Ayres starred in the popular Dr. Kildare film series but during WW11, just after this film was made, he became a conscientious objector, saying he couldn’t kill another human being. Because of that, his popularity hit a low peak and the studios blackballed him. Later on he joined the medical corps and distinguished himself in the battlefield. The ostracism was eventually removed, but not before it did significant damage to his career. Basil Rathbone, who was a big star at the time of this film, had a small part as the villain. He took the part because it only took two days to shoot the film, as he did it in between takes while he was starring in “The Crossroads.”
This is the story about a number of ax murders that has a city paralyzed with fear. Each of the six ax murders is done by a lunatic from the insane asylum, who remains at the scene of the crime but can’t explain to the police what happened. Oliver Duffy (Ayres) is an actor whose show has just closed and while walking home from the theater at night, he spots a guy with an ax following a beautiful young lady home. Edwina Brown (Day) thinks Oliver is trying to pick her up when he warns her she is in danger. When Edwina walks home alone and recognizes that there is someone following her, Oliver comes to her aid again. Oliver stays the night sleeping on her fire escape and prevents the lunatic from striking again. Oliver then sets a trap and captures him the next night.
Inspector Gallagher (Brown) congratulates the hero but when Oliver tries to tell the top cop his theory that there is a mastermind behind these murders sending these lunatics out with an ax, he is told by the inspector that he is either seeking more publicity for himself as an actor or he is trying to play amateur detective — that he should leave it to the police to solve.
Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.
There is excellent chemistry between Day and Ayres. She plays the beautiful bimbo, someone who is so naive that she fails to tell Ayres who might be after her because she thinks he might not want to be with her after she tells him she was engaged to someone who jilted her. Ayres is endearing as the misunderstood actor who amusingly states he will only be with a woman who doesn’t lie. Together they make an engaging couple, bringing a wonderful sense of lightness to their roles. Rathbone is as snide and sinister as ever, hypnotizing incurable lunatic patients to murder the seven people in this city who would recognize him from his Paris days. Rathbone took over Dr. Santelle’s identity when the real doctor died and jilted Laraine Day so he could return to the States and collect the huge inheritance.
The story is as clear as mud, but the performances from the stars is sparkling.
REVIEWED ON 11/26/2000 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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