The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window is a 1944 American film noir directed by Fritz Lang and starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey, and Dan Duryea. It tells the story of psychology professor[2] Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) who meets and becomes enamored with a young femme fatale.[3]

The Woman in the Window
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFritz Lang
Produced byNunnally Johnson
Screenplay byNunnally Johnson
Based onthe novel Once Off Guard
by J. H. Wallis
StarringEdward G. Robinson
Joan Bennett
Raymond Massey
Dan Duryea
Music byArthur Lange
CinematographyMilton R. Krasner
Edited byGene Fowler Jr.
Marjorie Fowler
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • November 3, 1944 (1944-11-03) (United States)[1]
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States

Based on J. H. Wallis' novel Once Off Guard, the story features two surprise twists at the end. Scriptwriter Nunnally Johnson was invited by International Pictures (an independent production company founded by erstwhile 20th Century-Fox personnel William Goetz and RKO executive Leo Spitz) to a picture deal after writing successful films such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and other John Ford films, and chose The Woman in the Window as its premiere project. Director Fritz Lang substituted the film's dream ending in place of the originally scripted suicide ending, to conform with the moralistic Production Code of the time.

The term "film noir" originated as a genre description, in part, because of The Woman in the Window.[4]


After college professor Richard Wanley sends his wife and two children off on vacation, he goes to his club to meet friends. Next door, Wanley sees a striking oil portrait of Alice Reed in a storefront window. He and his friends talk about the beautiful painting and its subject. Wanley stays at the club and reads Song of Songs. When he leaves, Wanley stops at the portrait and meets Reed, who is standing near the painting watching people gaze at it. Reed convinces Wanley to join her for drinks.

Later, they go to Reed's home, but an unexpected visit from her rich clandestine lover Claude Mazard, known to Reed initially only as 'Frank Howard', leads to a fight in which Wanley kills Mazard. Wanley and Reed conspire to cover up the murder, and Wanley disposes of Mazard's body in the country. However, Wanley leaves many clues, and there are a number of witnesses. One of Wanley's friends from the club, district attorney Frank Lalor, has knowledge of the investigation, and Wanley is invited back to the crime scene, as Lalor's friend, but not as a suspect. There are several comic dialogues in which Wanley appears to know more about the murder than he should. As the police gather more evidence, Reed is blackmailed by Heidt, a crooked ex-cop who was Mazard's bodyguard. Reed attempts to poison Heidt with a prescription overdose when he returns the next day, but Heidt is suspicious and takes the money without drinking the drugs. Reed tells Wanley, who overdoses on the remaining prescription medicine.

Heidt is killed in a shootout immediately after leaving Reed's home, and police believe Heidt is Mazard's murderer. Reed, seeing that the police have killed Heidt, races to her home to call Wanley, who is slumped over in his chair, and apparently he dies. In an impossible match on action, Wanley awakens in his chair at his club, and he realizes the entire adventure was a dream in which employees from the club were main characters in the dream. As he steps out on the street in front of the painting, a woman asks Wanley for a light. He adamantly refuses and runs down the street.



As in Lang's Scarlet Street, released a year later, Edward G. Robinson plays the lonely middle-aged man and Duryea and Bennett co-star as the criminal elements. The two films also share the same cinematographer (Milton R. Krasner) and several supporting actors.


Critical response

When the film was released, the staff at Variety magazine lauded the film and wrote, "Nunnally Johnson whips up a strong and decidedly suspenseful murder melodrama in Woman in the Window. The producer, who also prepared the screenplay (from the novel Once off Guard by J.H. Wallis), continually punches across the suspense for constant and maximum audience reaction. Added are especially fine timing in the direction by Fritz Lang and outstanding performances by Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey and Dan Duryea."[5]

The film holds a 95% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes as of July 2016.[6] In August 2015, the online entertainment magazine Paste named the film as the best film noir of all time.[7]


At the 18th Academy Awards, The Woman in the Window was nominated for Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for Hugo Friedhofer and Arthur Lange. However, Miklós Rózsa for Spellbound got the award.[8]


  1. "The Woman in the Window: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
  2. Biesen, Sheri Chinen (2005). Blackout: World War II and the origins of film noir. Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 978-0-8018-8218-0
  3. The Woman in the Window at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  4. Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, eds. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, page 1, 3rd edition, 1992. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.
  5. Variety. Staff film review, 1945. Accessed: August 14, 2013.
  6. "The Woman in the Window". Rotten Tomatoes. 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
  7. "The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time". Paste. August 9, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  8. 1946 Academy Award nominations and winners for films released in 1945 at

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