Edward G. Robinson is still, more than 35 years after his death, best remembered for his breakout role in Little Ceasar in 1931, which catapulted him to stardom and cemented his screen persona as fast-talking gangster type. Off screen, Robinson was a culture man who could speak seven language, loved classical music. He was a patron of the arts, building up a large collection of abstract modern paintings and acting as an early support of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
I’d like to think that his role in The Woman in the Window is closes to who the man really was. Robinson plays a law professor who has just sent of his wife and two young children away for the summer, as people did in those days. Over cigars at his gentleman’s club, his two companions, a district attorney (Raymond Massey) and a doctor (Edmund Breon) speculate that we will be going to a cabaret to celebrate his new temporary bachelorhood. He informs them that he is going home to go to bed. Out on the street, he stops to admire an oil painting of a woman displayed in the window of a gallery and is taken aback when the real-life subject of the painting (Joan Bennett) walks by and invites him for a drink. Giving in to temptation, he is charmed by her and can’t believe his good luck when she invites him to her place for a nightcap. Good luck turns to bad when an unforeseen incident make them partners in crime.
The professor attempts to conceal their crime, but he is hopelessly bad at it. His friend the district attorney takes him along as he goes to inspect the crimes scene, and the professor unthinkingly leads them to the very spot. His sloppy arouses more and more suspicion, leading him to ever increasing desperate measures. There is some very moody film noir cinematography to underscore Robinson’s portrayal of inner torment. It is not surprising that this was one of the films, along with Laura (1944), The Maltese Falcon (1941) and another Robinson film Double Indemnity (1944) that were released in France after the war and lead to the coining of the term “film noir.” There is an odd ending tacked on which is either very clever of groaningly bad, depending on how deeply you were involved in the downward spiral of Robison’s character.