Nov 5, 2021

On Blu-ray: Bobby Driscoll Lies Himself Into A Corner in The Window (1949)

The classic tale of the boy who cried wolf gets a cynical shot of noir in The Window (1949), a tense, fast-moving suspense flick featuring a remarkable performance by child actor Bobby Driscoll. I watched the film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

Based on the story The Boy Cried Murder by Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window [1954], Phantom Lady [1944]), most of the action unfolds in an apartment building in Lower East Side New York. Driscoll is Tommy Woodbury, a boy who lies so much that no one, not even his parents believes what he says. That puts him in peril when he witnesses a murder through the window of his upstairs neighbors the Kellersons (Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman). When they realize he is wise to them, they plot to make sure he can’t eventually convince the grown-ups around him of the truth.

The Window is an economical, but deliberately lensed thriller. It isn’t so much the story as the way it is told that is impressive. Director Ted Tetzlaff keeps the action moving and amps up the tension by showing the story through Tommy’s perspective as much as possible, having the audience peer over counters and up at authority figures along with him.

Driscoll, most famous for his Disney roles (Peter Pan [1953], Song of the South [1946]) and tragic early death is also a key part of the film’s success. Without a strong juvenile actor, The Window would have flopped. With his arched eyebrow and wrinkled forehead, he pulsates with frustration and helplessness. While he knows that his lies have gotten him in this mess, he’s also painfully aware of how little the adults in his world respect the opinion of a child. 

I loved the honesty of Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy as Tommy’s parents. A lot of their parenting methods would be problematic today, but here they effectively communicate the exhaustion and frustration of trying to raise a child with limited financial resources and a lack of tools to understand their son. They are loving and encouraging, but also overwhelmed. 

As the shifty neighbors, Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman are suitably creepy. There’s a moment where they’re stalking a frightened Tommy that’s especially chilling because they are so calm and deliberate in their methods. When the finale comes to its literally crashing end, it’s a relief to finally be freed from the tension that starts in this moment. 

Great direction and solid performances elevate this modest film into a deeply satisfying thriller. 

There are no special features on the disc. 

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review.

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