The Woman In The Window


The film noir The Woman In The Window could easily be renamed "be careful what you wish for." A chance lingering look at a woman's portrait and an easy conversation between friends foreshadows the nightmare Professor Wanley's life quickly becomes...or perhaps the nightmare Wanley becomes. Left behind while his family vacations (symbols of stability and middle class morality) Professor Richard Wanley gives into the minor evil of spending the evening with mysterious stranger, Alice Reed. Before the night is through Wanley finds himself committing murder in self-defense, but that action is merely the beginning of his troubles. After killing to save his life, Wanley slowly sinks ever lower as he desperately works to preserve his reputation.
This is the message of the film: evil lurks inside even the most bourgeois-seeming people among us and what we will do to preserve not just our lives, but our respectability. Of course in the battle to maintain that public face we lose all claim to actual morality. There is one last twist in the film, but it ultimately serves to emphasis the theme: dreams are dangerous. But the question remains, is Wanley's fate inevitable, or the result of his projected fears and otherwise escapable?
"I was warned against the siren call of adventure," Professor Wanley states near the beginning of the film while attempting to decline an invitation to get to know alluring Alice Reed. In film noir isn't this exactly what the women are; sirens who promise excitement as they lead all who dare to follow astray? It is precisely their sharpness and yes, devious qualities that make me enjoy film noir so much. Certainly the women are often depicted as villains, or at the very least untrustworthy and questionable, but how clever, powerful, and bold they are. Their "feminine wiles" are wielded like dangerous weapons and their sharp minds make small work of the men with whom they cross paths. They don't always do the right thing, but their lives are always far from boring. In this particular film Reed isn't a fully fledged femme fatale, but she hints at those depths and dangers and represents Wanley's lust for adventure. Sadly, in film even femme fatales are often vehicles for the leading man's growth or decline...
The Woman In The Window, directed by Fritz Lang

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