The Window (1949)

Film Review

THE WINDOW

Release Date: 17 May, 1949

Studio: RKO

Director: Ted Tatzlaff

Starring: Bobby Driscoll, Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman

Based on the short story The Boy Cried Murder by Cornell Woolrich

Related Discussion Topic: Cornell Woolrich

Learn about mystery author Cornell Woolrich in our Topics section.

Synopsis

Tommy Woodry invents stories about himself and his family that he tells his playmates and his parents. His story about his family moving to Texas prompts the landlord to attempt to rent his family's apartment. His parents, concerned about his inability to stop lying, send him to his room after dinner. The night is hot, and Tommy is allowed to sleep on the fire escape landing. The landing outside the Kellerson's apartment on the upper floor has a breeze, and he moves his pillow up there. Later in the night, he hears noises in the Kellerson's apartment and peeks through the crack below the window shade. He sees Joe Kellerson and a sailor fighting, and Mrs. Kellerson stab the sailor with a scissors. Tommy runs down to his floor before the couple remove the sailor's body through the window and carries it away to hide it. He tells his parents about seeing the murder, but they do not believe him. He goes to the police station to tell his story, but the police detectives do not believe him. A detective takes him home and tells his mother about his story. Angry, his mother says he made it up. His mother takes him upstairs to apologize to Mrs. Kellerson for making up a story about her. Tommy is frightened now that the neighbors know he saw something.

After his mother leaves to visit her sick sister and his father goes to work, Tommy is alone. He starts to run away, but his father returns and locks him in his room. Joe Kellerson breaks into the apartment, and the terrified Tommy tells him everything he knows. He runs away from the Kellersons, but they catch him and bring him back to their apartment. Kellerson balances Tommy on the edge of the fire escape hoping he will fall off, but he gets away and runs over the roofs. The Kellersons follow and trap him in an abandoned tenement building. He finds the sailor's body in a room and screams. With Kellerson close behind, Tommy flees over loose beams. Kellerson attempts to cross a beam that Tommy is pushing. The beam slips and falls carrying Kellerson to his death three stories below. Tommy, clinging to a loose beam, cries for help. The police and firemen find him and place a net below the beam. After hesitating, he jumps into it. As they ride away from the tenement in a police car, Tommy tells his parents that he will only tell the truth hereafter.

Discussion

This excellent film is suspenseful and engrossing. The event that initiates the story's action, the attempted theft of the sailor in the Kellerson apartment, is the weakest and least convincing part of the plot; the remainder of the film is very convincing and exceptionally gripping. As with "the boy who cried wolf" Tommy's true, but improbable, story is not believed, except by the murderers. The audience shares the boy's terror as the desperate Kellersons stalk him. Bobby Driscoll is an outstanding child actor, natural and unaffected. His innocent look and soulful eyes give him great screen presence. Hale and Kennedy are first-rate as Tommy's loving, but exasperated, parents. Hale's makeup is particularly dowdy and plain. Paul Stewart is menacing as he pursues the child. The depiction of tenement life in Manhattan is realistic and stark. The children live in small, rundown apartments in one tenement and play in the broken hulk of another. The Woodrys seem contented with their life, but they do not have much. Based on the short story The Boy Cried Murder, first printed in Mystery Book Magazine, by Cornell Woolrich (1947). The story has been anthologized under the original title and also as Fire Escape.