(director: Ted Tetzlaff; screenwriters: from the short story “The Boy Cried Murder” by Cornell Woolrich/Mel Dinelli; cinematographer: William Steiner Jr.; editor: Frederic Knudtson; music: Roy Webb; cast: Bobby Driscoll (Tommy Woodry), Barbara Hale (Mrs. Woodry), Arthur Kennedy (Mr. Woodry), Paul Stewart (Mr. Joe Kellerton), Ruth Roman (Mrs. Kellerton); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Dore Schary/Frederic Ullman, Jr.; RKO; 1949)
“Gripping and realistic.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Ted Tetzlaff’s “The Window” is based on the short story “The Boy Cried Murder” by Cornell Woolrich and was ably scripted by Mel Dinellire. It was remade in 1960 with the book’s title. This low-budget “B” film thriller proved to be a big box-office hit for RKO. It uses the childhood fable of the boy who cried wolf once too often to its advantage, as the boy witnesses a murder and nobody believes him. NYC’s tenements and tight living quarters add to the film’s dreary atmosphere, and make it seem understandable that a child needs a vibrant imagination to survive in such a hell. The film does a grand job of setting up the psychological terror that ensues, and the mistrust that exists in the city between parents and their children.
Tommy Woodry (Bobby Driscoll) is an imaginative 10-year-old who lives with his struggling working-class parents (Barbara Hale & Arthur Kennedy) in a tenement in NYC’s Lower East Side. He’s in the habit of telling tall tales, which get on his parents’ nerves who have no time for his nonsense. On a hot summer night, Tommy cools off by sleeping on the fire escape. The curious child climbs up one flight and witnesses through the window his upstairs neighbors, the Kellertons (Ruth Roman & Paul Stewart), robbing and murdering a drunken seaman. When he tells his parents, they don’t believe him. He then sneaks out and manages to report the murder to the police, who send an investigator but come up empty. The investigator tells Mrs. Woodry and she makes matters worse when she makes Tommy go upstairs and apologize to the couple.
The tension builds as the Kellertons feel they can’t take a chance in having Tommy live with that information. When Tommy’s mother is called away and is forced to leave him alone the next evening, he writes a note saying it really happened and intends to run away. His father doesn’t see the note but catches him trying to run away, before reporting for work, and locks him in his room and nails the windows shut. Joe Kellerton sneaks into Tommy’s apartment and finds the note, and rips off the part where Tommy said he really saw the murder. He then aids Tommy in his escape and tries to comfort the child by saying he’ll tell the police the truth. But Tommy is wary of him and this leads to a number of close calls of evading the killer in the dark city streets with the scary elevated train looming above. Tommy narrowly gets out of the killer’s grasp, as Kellerton tries to throw him off the fire escape. While fleeing to a nearby abandoned building, he discovers the seaman’s corpse. The conclusion was very suspenseful, as both the location and studio shots caught the claustrophobic look of the grimy city where fear and crime have found a home. The city slum is pictured as not an easy place to raise a child, as there appears no safe place to play. Though the times have changed, this taut tale nevertheless remains gripping and realistic. The modern city is not any less dangerous than the postwar years of the 1940s (undoubtedly even more dangerous). This film noir thriller exploits the meaning of the American dream to work hard for all the material things that were becoming available and ultimately find a utopia in the suburbs, as it cries out for the children left to their own devices to survive in such harsh surroundings as their parents have become too busy to raise them properly.
REVIEWED ON 12/29/2003 GRADE: B