An epidemic of axe murders grips Chicago! Victims found with heads split open! Killers found beside bodies in state of catatonic schizophrenia! And so, the above is not an encouraging thing to find in your hotel.
FINGERS AT THE WINDOW is a rather delightful comedy-thriller from MGM, with poor old Lew Ayres as a crime-solving out-of-work actor and Laraine Day as a dumb dancer (“She hasn’t the brains of a pancake!”) and, all too briefly, Basil Rathbone as the Mabusean mastermind who hypnotises his incurable subjects and sends them forth to kill! Kill! Kill!
Always with the pleasure, a little malaise: the cops speak of rounding up every “derelict and moron” in the city, a mission later referred to as a “moron hunt.” At a conference on psychiatry a paper is read about insulin shock therapy, the brilliant and human procedure whereby the mentally ill were deliberately overdosed with insulin to put them in a coma, for weeks sometimes. All of which adds an uncomfortable tincture of historical nastiness to a basically light-hearted yarn.
In one amusing scene, Ayres must use his powers of dramaturgy to fake madness, convincing a Viennese quack played by Miles Mander, the only man wirier than his own hair. This kind of scene ALWAYS works, folks. It works when Cary Grant does it in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and it works when Richard Carlson does it in Siodmak’s FLY-BY-NIGHT ~
Mr Ayres serves as role model for the chimp in the end credits of Police Squad. “He’ll stop when he’s tired.”
And it certainly works when Ayres does it. He’s more convincing here than as a shrink in THE DARK MIRROR. And in fact he also gets to impersonate a head doctor here, adopting the name of Dr. Stephen Dedalus — perhaps the only James Joyce reference to appear in an MGM noirball? It’s part of a run of Irish gags, which extends to making all the cops in the film exceptionally dense.
This seems to be the only screenplay by Rose Caylor (playwright and wife of Ben Hecht) working with Lawrence P Bachmann, a specialist in medical subjects who reprised elements of this idea for Otto Preminger’s WHIRLPOOL. But this one is better! Director is Charles Lederer, better known for co-writing The Front Page with Hecht. Only an occasional director, Lederer does a good enough job here to make me wish he’d done more. The movie isn’t as ambitious as Hecht’s co-directing efforts, but it hits its modest targets more frequently.