Offbeat Blu-ray Review: The Window

The Window - Blu-ray Cover Art

Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: September 21, 2021

Region: Region A

Length: 01:13:27

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Notes: This is the film’s North American Blu-ray debut.

The Window - Half Sheet 01

“He lived in two worlds at once. One of them was a small, drab, confined world; just two squalid rooms, in the rear of a 6-story tenement, 20 Holt Street; stifling in summer, freezing in winter . . . the other world had no boundaries, no limits. You could do anything in it. You could go anywhere. All you had to do was sit still and think hard. Make it up as you went along. The world of the imagination. He did a lot of that. But he was learning to keep it to himself.” —Cornell Woolrich (The Boy Who Cried Murder, Mystery Book Magazine, March 1947)

Alfred Hitchcock fans may recognize Cornell Woolrich’s name as the author was responsible for penning “It Had to Be Murder.” The short story was published in “Dime Detective Magazine” in 1942 before being transformed by Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes into a cinematic masterpiece entitled Rear Window. Woolrich spun another tale of murder as witnessed through a New York apartment window during the stifling summer heat only a few years later. “The Boy Who Cried Murder” was published in the March 1947 issue of “Mystery Book Magazine,” but it would be turned into a film much more quickly than “It Had to Be Murder.” The rights were quickly snatched up by RKO, and it seems that Fredrick Ullman — a former head of the studios newsreel, documentary, and shorts department — rushed the project into production. It was to be made on location by RKO’s Pathe Studio in New York using a script by Mel Dinelli (who had penned The Spiral Staircase). Dickie Tyler and Christopher Blake were discussed as possibilities to star as the film’s protagonist, but the role would rightfully go to Bobby Driscoll.

Ted Tetzlaff was trusted with directing the film after having made Riffraff (1947) and Fighting for Father Dunne (1948) for RKO in quick succession, and this third assignment for the studio would prove to be the charm. More important than these two efforts, however, was his previous work as a cinematographer. His work in the industry actually reached back into the silent era.

“…Born in 1903 in Los Angeles; his proximity to the movie industry is probably the explanation for his interest in films. While still a young man, he joined the camera staff at Fox, where he got his training and experience. By the late 1920s he was a chief cameraman at the fledgling Columbia Pictures, filming a steady stream of program pictures every year. Not until 1935, when he moved to Paramount, did Tetzlaff get the chance to photograph ‘A’ pictures (Rumba, Hands Across the Table, etc.). So good was his work at this time that he secured a directing contract from the studio in 1941; the problem was to find suitable films for him to direct. World Première (1941), starring John Barrymore, was not the greatest film for a directorial debut, and Tetzlaff decided to wait rather than accept another such picture. He returned to cinematography… [until] working at RKO as a cameraman, Tetzlaff investigated the possibility of directorial work and found that he could make the move, but only if he would work in the B-picture unit. He decided to do so, and turned out some creditable Pat O’Brien vehicles before embarking on an inexpensive thriller called The Window (1949)…” —Leonard Maltin (The Art of the Cinematographer, 1971)

Ted Tetzlaff

Of course, before embarking on his career as a B-movie director, he would work with Alfred Hitchcock on Notorious (1946). As a matter of fact, the film would be his last assignment as a cinematographer before switching gears, and it seems quite likely that his eye was on the director’s chair during that production as relationship with Hitchcock was rather chilly. Tetzlaff seemed to dislike following Hitchcock’s marching orders, and Hitchcock later remembered an unpleasant exchange with the cinematographer in his legendary interview with François Truffaut:

“In the early stages of the film, we were doing the scene of Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant driving in the car; she’s a little drunk and she’s driving too fast. We were working in the studios, with transparencies. On the transparency screen we showed a motorcycle cop in the background; he’s getting gradually closer to the car, and just as he goes out of the frame, on the right side, I cut to a cross angle and continue the scene, with the motorcycle cop inside the studio this time, showing him as he pulls up to them and stops the car.

When Tetzlaff announced he was all set to shoot, I said, ‘Don’t you think it would be a good idea to have a little light on the side, sweeping across the backs of their necks, to represent the motorcycle headlights that are shown on the transparency screen?’ He had never done anything like that, and he was not too pleased that I should draw his attention to it. And he said, ‘Getting a bit technical, aren’t you, Pop?’” —Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma Selon Hitchcock, 1966)

Even if Tetzlaff resented being a subordinate to Hitchcock, his work on the film was excellent. What’s more, it is likely that it earned him a certain amount of currency within the industry, and he seems to have learned from working under the master as The Window is a sturdy suspense thriller (even if his directorial hand isn’t nearly as masterful as Hitchcock’s). It straddles the film noir, suspense, and horror genres rather expertly and is told with a gritty real world aesthetic even as it ventures into the surreal territory of a child’s nightmare. Actually, one imagines that the film would have an enormous impact on younger audiences as it seems to capture the difficulty of childhood rather expertly as Kier-La Janisse suggests in her essay about 1940s horror cinema:

“The child sees, but is marginalized by his size and age, forced to witness traumatic events and to live in fear of the encroaching danger to which he has been left vulnerable. In Ted Tetzlaff’s under-appreciated horror-noir The Window — a film that deserves a reappraisal by horror scholars — Bobby Driscoll’s character Tommy has this precise problem. It is not just that someone wants to kill him, but that, as a child, he has no credibility, a situation that is exacerbated by the fact that he’s a known teller of tall tales. ‘Noir, which is so often about powerlessness, is the perfect vehicle for this story,’ writes Jake Hinkson in his article ‘Children of the Night: Noir and the Loss of Innocence.’ Based on the story ‘The Boy Cried Murder’ (1947; a.k.a., ‘Fire Escape’) by noir staple Cornell Woolrich — whose books were adapted for Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man (1943), Robert Siodmak’s Phantom Lady (1944), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), among others — The Window is incredibly bleak and is one of several stories Woolrich wrote from a child’s perspective.

Lead child actor Driscoll was becoming a hot youth property at the time, on loan here from Walt Disney Pictures, who had featured him in Song of the South in 1946. He would go on to be the model for Disney’s animated Peter Pan (1953), as well as providing the winsome character’s voice, which creates a poignant counterpoint for his terrorized turn in The Window. While horror-noir would not typically be targeted to young audiences, Driscoll’s presence ensured that certain kids would seek out the film, and The Film Noir Foundation has a letter posted on their website from a man who remembers seeing The Window in a small-town Kansas cinema as a child. ‘I idolized Bobby Driscoll,’ he writes, ‘I identified with this child star as he avoided the killer’s schemes. I wondered what I would do in the same situation. My heart raced. My eyes were glued to the screen and [I] wanted somebody to believe him before it was too late.’

Like Peter Pan, Tommy (named Buddy in the original story) is a boy with a boundless imagination, and spends his days wandering through the rubble of crumbling tenements—filmed on location (a staple characteristic of noir, especially in the latter half of the 1940s) in New York’s Lower East Side… making up stories for a gaggle of unimpressed post-war waifs… Even before the film noir elements of the story set in, Tommy’s world is a dangerous one, which he navigates without trepidation precisely because he has that wild imagination to keep him safe. Thus, the grim horror-noir context is disempowering to children like Tommy only in a traditional sense. As Tyrus Miller asserts in his investigation into childhood memory and trauma in his essay, ‘The Burning Babe: Children, Film Narrative and the Figures of Historical Witness’ (2013), there are different types of agency, and a retreat into imagination is itself a willful act of self-preservation that cannot be discounted… Tommy’s imagination frequently gets him into trouble perhaps because of the subversive potential that others realize in it. He doesn’t understand why his parents are no longer charmed by his stories, and instead call him a liar, shaming him… telling the truth holds the threat of punishment. And if physical punishment doesn’t work, there’s always guilt. ‘You don’t want me ever to be ashamed of you, do you?’ his father asks. ‘People are gonna say that Ed Woodry’s son doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.’ The unfair pressure these parents place on Tommy regarding their own social standing once again suggests fear of the potential power of the child as an agent of change… Tommy’s is a world in which no adult is on his side: strangers, police, even his own parents. In fact these figures of official authority all seem to be corrupt allies against childhood itself. As his counterpart says in Woolrich’s text: ‘Wasn’t there anyone in the whole grown-up world believed you? Did you have to be grown up yourself before anyone would believe you, stop you from being murdered?’ … In ‘Cornell Woolrich: From Pulp Noir to Film Noir,’ author Thomas C. Renzi has pointed out that the [killers] act as doubles to Tommy’s parents  — a point illustrated nicely when [they] abduct Tommy and posit themselves as his parents to a probing policeman. One of the reasons the film’s suspense is so taut and unnerving is that the distinction between the ‘good’ parents and the ‘bad’ parents in such an analogy is shattered by the fact that both are equally horrid to Tommy. The Kellersons want to kill him, but his real parents may as well want the same thing for all the support they give him…

… Tommy’s big lesson is to give up his imagination. “I’ll never tell a story again!” he promises, to which his parents respond with pride and affection. After the resolve this brave and resourceful child has shown throughout the film, this is the most cynical and heartbreaking denouement possible. Just who owes who an apology here? His neglectful parents are able to deny their guilt and convince the child that his imperilment was his own fault. The viewer is left only with the lingering memory of the release Tommy felt earlier in the film when escaping into his imagination… Indeed, the film noir showed that things were rough all over, even — and sometimes especially — if you were a kid.” —Kier-La Janisse (The Child Witness: Peril and Power in 1940s Horror, from ‘The East Side Kids’ to ‘The Window, Recovering 1940s Horror Cinema, 2015)

Bobby Driscoll in 1950

Unfortunately, Bobby Driscoll knew — or would soon learn — all about the horrors of childhood. Driscoll’s life has been written about endlessly in numerous publications because the details are at once tragic and scandalous. One of these publications was the luridly titled “The Hollywood Book of Death.”

“The fates of former child stars always make good media copy when they are dreadful; far juicier than reports on the few who adjust reasonably well to adulthood, like Shirley Temple or Ron Howard. One of the most tragic victims of the Hollywood studio system was talented young Bobby Driscoll. As a youngster, the industry could not get enough of him. But when he became a gawky young adult, the system cruelly shoved him aside. He was unable to cope with such bitter rejection and escaped into drug addiction, which eventually killed him.

Driscoll was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1937, and moved with his parents to California in 1943. A Los Angeles barber whose own boy was already in motion pictures urged Mrs. Driscoll to have little Bobby try his luck in the movies. She took him to MGM, where the pixie-faced Bobby was soon hired for a role in Margaret O’Brien’s Lost Angel (1943). By the time he was six, the cooperative Bobby was making $500 a week, remarkable money in those times — especially for a youngster. By 1946 he was being touted as ‘the greatest child find since Jackie Cooper played Skippy [in 1931].’

Driscoll was the first human actor Walt Disney put under contract. He and the equally young Luana Patten were paired in Song of the South (1946) and So Dear to My Heart (1948), billed as the ‘sweetheart team.’ When asked what he intended to do with his weekly earnings, Bobby said, ‘I’m going to save my money and go to college, then become a G-man.’ … Also for the Disney studio, he played Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island (1950) and provided the model and voice for the animated Peter Pan (1953).

By 1954, Bobby was in that awkward teenager stage, gangly and acne-faced. Finding screen jobs scarce, he performed a few TV guest appearances. Away from work, he did not fit in with his peers. ‘I really feared people,’ he admitted later. ‘I tried desperately to be one of the gang. When they rejected me, I fought back, became belligerent and cocky and was afraid all the time.’ He first tried marijuana when he was 16, then turned to harsher drugs, finally becoming a heroin addict. He was arrested in 1956 on a narcotics charge and on suspicion of being a drug pusher. Bobby then tried to straighten out his life and even landed a new film role. The project, however, was a trashy study of juvenile delinquents called The Party Crashers (1958), featuring another Hollywood has-been, Frances Farmer, who was also failing to make a successful comeback.

Abandoning acting for the time being, Driscoll took odd jobs, but he either quit or got fired from every one. He married a woman named Marjorie, had a son, and was determined that his kid would never have to endure what he was undergoing. But when his wife divorced him, Bobby reverted to drugs. He was jailed as an addict in 1959, and in 1961 he was apprehended while robbing an animal clinic. He was incarcerated at Chino Penitentiary for drug addiction and remained there for more than a year. When he was paroled, he worked as a carpenter and then drifted to New York. His mother would remember, ‘None of the studios in New York would hire him because he had once been on drugs.’

Bobby’s last months must have been desperate ones indeed. He died penniless in an abandoned Greenwich Village tenement. His body was later discovered by two children playing there on March 30, 1968. Two empty beer bottles were found by the corpse and there were needle marks on his arms. Since no one knew who he was, he was buried in a pauper’s grave. The causes of death were listed as a heart attack and hardening of the arteries. Later that year, when Bobby’s father was himself dying, his mother tried again to find Bobby. She had no success, and she went to the FBI for assistance. Time passed, and finally, she heard from an L.A. County agency that her son was officially dead. He had been traced through his fingerprints to that unknown corpse who had been buried back in Manhattan. Nobody could write a better epitaph to this wasted life than the victim himself. At one point in his tormented adult existence, he observed, ‘I was carried on a satin cushion and then dropped into the garbage can.’” —James Robert Parish (The Hollywood Book of Death, November 19, 2001)

Bobby Driscoll and Walt Disney - Peter Pan

Of course, all of this horror was inconceivable in 1949 when Driscoll was still the golden boy of his era… Production on The Window would commence on November 10, 1947, and the film was finished and ready for release by 1948. Unfortunately, it sat on the shelf for quite some time after Howard Hughes took over the studio and decided not to release it. He felt that Driscoll’s acting ability was subpar and that the film wouldn’t make a profit. He would be proven wrong on both counts when it finally premièred in Los Angeles on May 17, 1949 and was given a wide general release on August 06, 1949. It was a fairly substantial financial success, and the critics were especially pleased with Driscoll’s performance. He was even awarded a special miniature Oscar statuette for being “the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949” at the 22nd Annual Academy Awards ceremony (this was before child actors competed with their adult colleagues).

As for Ted Tetzlaff, The Window was his crowning directorial achievement.

“As the 1950s waned, and the B picture faded out, so did Tetzlaff’s career. His last films were hardly distinguished, not even up to his own standard from the early fifties. But a distinguished career as a cinematographer, and a fairly good one as a director, marked by one film that is widely considered to be a classic, is not a bad record for anyone.” —Leonard Maltin (The Art of the Cinematographer, 1971)

The Window is indeed a classic, and anyone with a fondness for noir flavored suspense is likely to enjoy it.

The Window - Production Photograph

The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Archives houses their Blu-ray disc in a standard Blu-ray case that includes an insert sleeve showcasing artwork that was taken from the film’s original one sheet, and we applaud them for doing so (even if it didn’t have the best one sheet in the world).

The disc’s static “bare bones” menu utilizes some of the artwork used in the original one sheet’s upper half to form a fairly attractive horizontal layout.

The Window - Production Photograph 06

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Brothers tends to offer terrific transfers of the catalog titles released under the Warner Archives banner, and this film is not an exception. The film’s original 1.37:1 aspect ratio is respected in this transfer that manages to impress with a fair amount of fine detail (particularly for a film that was shot in 1947). Contrast is well handled with black levels that feel inky and deep but do not seem to crush pertinent detail. This is great news considering that this is a film noir title, and the shadows are fairly important to the aesthetic. It’s also a surprisingly clean image as there aren’t any age related anomalies to mar the film. This is another terrific release from Warner Archives!

The Window - Production Photograph 05

Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The included DTS-HD Master audio track presents the film in its original mono, and this is as it should be. Everything here sounds as if it reflects the film’s original theatrical presentation rather admirably. Dialogue is clean and clear, the Roy Webb score sounds as one expects from a good mono transfer, sound effects come through as intended, and age related anomalies are never an issue. Fans should certainly be pleased with the track.

The Window - Production Photograph 08

Special Features:

0 of 5 MacGuffins

The disc doesn’t include any supplementary material. It isn’t surprising that this little seen B-film from the 1940s wasn’t provided with any retrospective “making of” documentaries, appreciative video essays, or even a scholarly commentary track to support it on this amazing Blu-ray release, but one does wish they had included the film’s original theatrical trailer. Even a standard definition transfer of the trailer would have beat nothing. This is the only aspect of the disc that disappoints.

The Window - Production Still 02

Final Words:

“A well-crafted, high tension film noir, claustrophobic in tone and harrowing in its impact.” —Richard B. Jewell and Vernon Harbin (The RKO Story, July 12th, 1985)

The above quote was cherry-picked by the marketing team at Warner Brothers to use as a blurb on the back cover of this new Blu-ray release of the film, and it is a surprisingly accurate description of the film. Ted Tetzlaff’s The Window may not be Alfred Hitchcock caliber filmmaking, but it does prove that low-budget B-films can pack a punch. Of course, a lot of the credit should go to Bobby Driscoll as it is his performance that grounds the film and sells the drama. This is his finest performance. Meanwhile, the Warner Archives Blu-ray offers a solid transfer that more than earns the right to be placed on the shelves of film noir fanatics.

[Completely Unrelated Post Script: Is this an appropriate time to wonder out loud when Warner Archives will get around to releasing Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright and Mr. and Mrs. Smith? It is time!]

Review by: Devon Powell

The Window - Half Sheet 02

Source Materials

Cornell Woolrich (The Boy Who Cried Murder, Mystery Book Magazine, March 1947)

Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma Selon Hitchcock, 1966)

Leonard Maltin (The Art of the Cinematographer, 1971)

Richard B. Jewell and Vernon Harbin (The RKO Story, July 12th, 1985)

Eddie Muller (Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, January 01, 1998)

James Robert Parish (The Hollywood Book of Death, November 19, 2001)

Kier-La Janisse (The Child Witness: Peril and Power in 1940s Horror, from ‘The East Side Kids’ to ‘The Window,’ Recovering 1940s Horror Cinema, 2015)

The Window - One Sheet

The Window - Marketing Poster

Note: We were provided with a screener for review purposes, but this had no bearing on our opinions. We do not feel under any obligation to hand out positive reviews.

The Window - Marketing Poster 02

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s