“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” – Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard
I’m a big fan of film noir. I love Noir Alley on TCM, hosted by Eddie Muller (The Czar of Noir). He does such a great job dishing inside info on the movies he screens.
A few weeks ago Noir Alley showed a tight little masterpiece called The Window. This 1949 thriller is based on a story by the great Cornell Woolrich, who probably provided more source material for suspense films than any writer in history. The title of Woolrich’s story is “The Boy Who Cried Murder” and that pretty much captures the plot.
A nine-year-old boy named Tommy (Bobby Driscoll) lives in a New York tenement with his parents. He loves making up wild stories. His folks keep telling him not to. One hot night he goes out on the fire escape to sleep. He’s awakened by noise from the apartment upstairs. Peering through the window he witnesses a murder. But when he tries to tell his parents, they naturally think he’s making it up. “Not that nice couple upstairs, Tommy.” When he persists, they punish him by confining him to his room.
Desperate to turn in the killers, Tommy scampers down the fire escape and runs to the police station. The cops don’t believe him either, but just in case send over a man to sniff things out.
Much to Tommy’s shame, the cop takes him right back to his mother (Barbara Hale). A little later she marches Tommy upstairs to apologize to the couple. Tommy pleads with her not to make him, because if he does they’ll know he knows, and try to kill him, too!
Mrs. Kellerson (Ruth Roman) answers the door. She really seems like a nice, sweet lady. She smiles at Tommy. Then Mom tells Mrs. Kellerson what Tommy has been saying. (In a brilliant piece of acting, Roman’s face changes ever so slightly, same smile, but now with a menace only the boy can discern.)
The last twenty minutes of the movie is pure, non-stop suspense, ratcheted to its peak because of our bond with the boy.
There’s a moment in the film that cements that bond. When the cop brings Tommy home and is talking to his mother about what the boy reported, the director goes in for a five-second close-up on Tommy. He looks at the wall and scratches it lightly with his finger as he endures the humiliation of the policeman not believing him. It’s a small gesture, and we only see about a quarter of Tommy’s face, but right then I almost teared up.
Why? [Read more…]