The Window (1949) Ted Tetzlaff

windowBased on a short story (The Boy Cried Murder) by the reclusive, alcoholic and prolific writer, Cornell Woolrich, The Window is a claustrophobic tight little thriller filled with fire escapes and old tenement buildings that dramatically frame this tale of a young boy, a compulsive teller of tales, who witnesses a murder on a hot urban city night…and no one believes him.

Window-1Released by RKO, this low budget feature was filmed on location in New York City. Though released in 1949 the film was shot during the winter of 1947 rivaling Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, released in 1948, as the first Hollywood production shot entirely in NYC.

Then Disney star Bobby Driscoll was loaned out to RKO. As Tommy Woodry, young teller of long tales, he  is out sleeping on the fire escape one hot, steamy summer night. He soon hears voices. Peaking into his upstairs neighbors window, the Kellertons (Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman), he witnesses the murder of a sailor. The couple then dump the body in an abandoned neighboring tenement. When Tommy tells he parents (Arthur Kennedy and Barbara Hale), they don’t believe him, thinking he’s just telling another tale to get some attention. Tommy then sneaks out of the apartment  and heads to the police station to tell the police what he witnessed. They are skeptical of his story. A detective takes the boy home and tells Mom they really need to reign in the lad. Before leaving, the detective does however go upstairs to the Kellertons apartment.  Posing as a contractor bidding on potential improvements for the rundown apartment building, he looks around the neighbors apartment. He comes up empty. Mom makes matters worst when she decides Tommy needs to apologize to the Kellertons for his lies. Mother has unknowingly delivered her son to the killers on a  silver platter. Now they know, he knows…

The Kellertons can’t afford to let Tommy live.

window-2The Window is an unsettling film. One of the most unsettling scenes, and it must have really shocked audiences back in the day, happens when the Kellertons go after Tommy. The boy is left alone overnight in the apartment (his father works nights and Mom went to help out with her ill sister). Tommy is locked in his room by Dad before he goes off to work. That in itself seems strange. First, do you really leave a ten year old kid alone all night…and locked in his room? If nothing else, how does he go to the bathroom? However, that isn’t really the shocker. You see, Tommy manages to get out of his room, unkowningly with the help of Mr. Kellerton, who broke into his apartment. The killer grabs the boy as he comes out of his room. Tommy does manage to escape, running into the streets, but is eventually caught one again by the murdering husband and wife. This time, the couple flag down a taxi and drag the boy into the back seat. Struggling and screaming, the boy is punched in the face and knocked out by Mr. Kellerton in order to shut him up. This scene is not so much brutal as it is shocking.

The Window builds to a nail biting, tension filled climax with the dark shadowy background of abandon buildings in the poorer sections of the inner city.  The cinematography is appropriately atmospheric and dark aiding nicely in building up the suspense. The on location  shooting also adds a first-rate sense of realism missing in many films. Right from the opening scenes, you can almost feel the city’s grit.

the-window1Arthur Kennedy and Barbara Hale provide strong convincing performances as Tommy’s parents. However, it is the gravel voiced Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman who have the meatier roles as the husband and wife killers. They are hell bent on saving their own skins  by going after the young boy.

The strongest performance is given by young  Bobby Driscoll who was all of ten years old He was a natural actor. His performance is the centerpiece of the film. Driscoll was best known for playing Jim Hawkins in the 1950 Disney version of Treasure Island and the voice of Peter Pan in Disney’s 1953 animated classic. Sadly, by the 1960’s Bobby Discoll’s career was in the tank. He sank into drug addiction and died homeless in 1968.

2 comments on “The Window (1949) Ted Tetzlaff

  1. Sam Juliano says:

    Terrific review both historically and thematically John! I know the film very well, and have seen it multiple times over the years. Tense, disturbing and as you say claustrophobic, it made the most of its limited decor and was in all senses cinematically minimalist. Woolrich was a master of source material for the movies -I well remember Val Lewton’s THE LEOPARD man as well, but at the center of the film is a remarkable childhood performance by Bobby Driscoll. Sad indeed the way he ended up. I thought he was wonderful in TREASURE ISLAND as well. THE WINDOW almost made the childhood films countdown, and I wished it had done so!


  2. John Greco says:

    Thanks Sam. I can’t believe it took me so long to catch up with this work. It’s a terrific little film. I love the location shots of New York which adds so much to it all.


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