Archive for Cornell Woolrich Week
I once got into a silly argument with my friend Nicola about whether THE WINDOW was in colour or b&w. I clearly remembered the colours — proof, in fact, that sometimes the eye paints in what the film omits to record. I think also the all-American boy in a stripy top had formed a connection in my mind between Bobby Driscoll in THE WINDOW and little Tommy Rettig in THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR T, enabling me to “see” the colours of Bobby Dee’s shirt.
Maybe also the palpable sense of summer heat evoked by former DoP Ted Tetzlaff’s film (based on Woolrich’s juvenile Rear Window retread, The Boy Who Cried Wolf) added a wash of orange and red over my memories — although in fact, monochrome movies are often the best for making you feel a choking sense of humidity — see TOUCH OF EVIL for confirmation.
To threaten the life of a child, said Francois Truffaut (who filmed two Woolrich novels), is almost an abuse of cinematic power. THE WINDOW depends entirely for suspense on placing its miniature protagonist in peril, but we are reassured slightly by the fact that he’s the hero of the film, and he’s a star, so he’s probably going to make it through OK. Nevertheless, it’s disconcerting to find him playing in the ruins of a crumbling tenement in scene one, something modern American parents probably would tolerate, and which the city would take steps to render impossible. And when bad guy Paul Stewart punches the little mite unconscious later on, there’s a genuine sense of SHOCK.
Because the film is rooted in a fairly happy family, and the threat comes from entirely outside, and things are cleared up cosily by the end, perhaps we can’t call this true noir, but the visuals certainly fit. And Bobby looking up at the stars enables me to quote Woolrich’s memoirs. As an eleven-year-old boy, he looked up at the stars, and ~
“I had that trapped feeling, like some sort of a poor insect that you’ve put inside a downturned glass, and it tries to climb up the sides, and it can’t, and it can’t, and it can’t.”*
The other thing that haunts this film and gives it a darker edge is the melancholy fate of Bobby Driscoll. After his movie career did a slow fade in adolescence, he drifted into drug abuse. Apparently a talented artist, he hung out with Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd (he was apparently a promising visual artist), then vanished from view. An unidentified body found in an abandoned tenement was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave on Hart Island. A year and a half later, his mother approached the police, wanting Bobby to see his father, who was close to death. A fingerprint search matched Bobby’s name to his corpse.
Bobby Driscoll, RIP.
*Excepted from Francis M Nevins’ introduction to Night & Fear.
Bonita Granville is twins — one good, one evil!
“Which is the evil one?” I asked.
“The one in the negligee, obviously,” explained Fiona.
Later, she admitted that there is some difficulty telling which one is good, since Bonita has a certain “edge.” Or maybe we’re just carrying the strong feelings she evokes as a terrifying bully and sneak in THESE THREE. She’s very sweet as Nancy Drew in that series of films, but there she doesn’t have a bad version hanging around, reminding you how evil she can be.
The film is THE GUILTY, and there is not that much to say about it. But Bonita is an interesting figure. Like a lot of child actors, she never quite attained a real persona as an adult, but she kept slogging away at the acting, even when her star vehicles were released by Monogram, the bottom-of-the-barrel Poverty Row specialists. This little noir wisely avoids the jokiness of many Monogram horror outings like VOODOO MAN. It’s straight Woolrich delirium, but without much visual flair to compensate for the cheapness. The exceptions are (1) a nice nightmare sequence where Bonita wakes up next to the empty bed formerly occupied by her virtuous sister — a complete red herrings scene designed to make us think she might have something to do with the disappearance which actuates the story, and (2) a slow track past a dormant character. There’s no real reason for the move, which feels surprisingly modern, the kind of thing an anxious tyro would do to keep us interested in a static scene.
The other problem with the film is that, since watching a couple films in THE WHISTLER series, I get excited whenever I see the shadow of a man in a hat, and have to start narrating the film in a snide, Vincent Price type voice.
It’s him! “You thought, Bonita Granville — didn’t you? — that you could play two physically identical characters, carefully differentiating them by subtle shadings of characterisation… how wrong you were!”
Still, the supporting cast is fine, everybody’s a suspect and quite creepy with it, given the horrible nature of the crime, as it’s eventually revealed (with grisly relish). And I didn’t guess the ending, which is also quite modern, even if the story doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Based on this and THE INVISIBLE GHOST, Monogram (I keep typing Mongorama by mistake!) were very fond of the pointless identical twin device. I reckon it’s not plotting, it’s economy — I figured out myself that you pay actors by the week, not by the role, and have exploited this loophole several times myself…