Directed by Ted Tetzlaff; produced by Frederic Ullman Jr
Nine year old Tommy Woodry (Bobby Driscoll) brightens a dreary existence in his lower class New York tenement by making up stories. One day his family is moving to a ranch in Texas; the next, he witnesses a gangland massacre. His parents (Arthur Kennedy, Barbara Hale) are used to his tall tales but exasperated and worried by them, at the same time. The limit is reached when the boy tells his mother and father that he saw a murder in their own building. What nobody but the killers realise is that this time, Tommy is telling the truth.
An excellent little crime drama set in a real world of the working poor and crumbling slums, The Window is inspired by the Aesop fable about the boy who cried wolf. In fact, it is based on the Cornell Woolrich novelette titled The Boy Cried Murder. There is nothing really fantastic or unbelievable here; even the killing is an ordinary one, committed, it seems, for nothing more than the contents of a man’s wallet. As in many good movies, though, The Window’s creators take the ordinary and make much of it.
And that ‘much’ depends greatly on Bobby Driscoll, one of the best child actors Hollywood produced. He is completely credible in everything he does on-screen. His expressions, his tones of voice, his attitudes, are what would be expected of a nine year old boy, at least of his era. His curiosity about his neighbours, his restless energy, his unstated claustrophobia in his narrow surroundings, are all convincing. The film would have been ruined had he not been capable of conveying them.
The screenplay, by Mel Dinelli (who had earlier written The Spiral Staircase), is very good. One of its laudable aspects is the characters created. Tommy is not a pathological liar; he makes up stories but doesn’t tell his parents falsehoods beyond these. He is respectful and tries to do the right thing – which is what gets him into deeper trouble in the film. He is also intelligent, and any gaffes he makes in trying to solve his dilemma are themselves believable. If the boy had been a smart alecky brat, or in the least unlikeable, the film would have become tedious fast.
Similarly, Tommy’s parents neither ignore nor over-indulge him. They are frustrated by his stories, though there may be a hint that they understand that his life is too confined for his imagination. They don’t try to stifle it as much as make him understand his responsibility in using it. They are loving people who are under much outside pressure: the father works nights (never conducive to a relaxed state) and the mother is concerned over a sick sister.
If there is a weakness to the writing, it is that there are a few contrivances, especially toward the end. But these are redeemed by the excellent direction. Tetzlaff was initially a cinematographer, and it shows here. Light and shadows, camera angles and viewpoints are important. Small, dingy rooms; dark, empty streets; sounds off-screen, combine to create a tense atmosphere. And the climax is truly involving; Tommy’s final leap is a nail-biter, too.
Films in which a character’s claim to witness a crime are disregarded can often be far-fetched, or frustrating even when credible. This is not the case with The Window. The viewer will be taken along easily in Tommy’s dangerous adventure and, like the boy, wonder how it will turn out.