Friday, 11 July 2014

LOOK IN ANY WINDOW (1961)


Poor Craig Fowler. His father Jay (Alex Nichol) is a self-pitying drunk who’s just been fired from his job. His mother Jackie (Ruth Roman) has had it and is making eyes at the neighborhood skirt-chaser Gareth Lowell (Jack Cassidy).

Meantime, Craig (16 year old Paul Anka) is wrestling with teenage sexual angst and losing. He skulks around at night in a rubber mask looking through bedroom windows, hoping to see what goes on behind closed doors. It's tawdry stuff but by the 1960's film noir had crossed into seamier territory.

'Look in Any Window' forages for its drama among Southern California’s burgeoning suburbs and newly-affluent middle-class who are lusting after the good things in life – cars, swimming pools, televisions, stereos, BBQ’s and a 'lifestyle' to go along with it. 

Not that anyone one appears to be any the happier for it. The husbands work hard to bring home the bacon but are out doing some extra-marital porking on the side. The wives sit and drink by the pool all day and the kids just do whatever they’re going to do.

And on top of it all there’s now a peeping tom on the prowl! This cause-for-alarm brings in a couple of plainclothes cops who are assigned to 24 hour lookout. While they watch and wait, the two get a good look-in on the sexual infidelities, the chronic boozing and domestic upheaval and share their square-eyed view on all the goings-on. 


If 'Look in Any Window' sounds suspect, be comforted. It’s a much better movie than the sum of its lurid storylines and cheesy publicity come-ons - thanks to its ensemble of talented actors and a smartly-crafted script by Lawrence E. Mascott, an occasional writer/ producer  whose only brush with film noir had been a teleplay for the  earlier ‘Johnny Staccato’ TV series starring John Cassavetes.

The film also was William Alland's first and only outing as a director. Alland to that time had been strictly a producer of mostly B-level westerns, science fiction and horror flicks (‘The Creature of the Black Lagoon’, ‘The Colossus of New York’, etc.). However in ‘Look in Any Window’ he pushes past the standard studio style in the direction of a kind of ersatz neo-realism. 

If ‘Look in Any Window’ proves a half-reliable indication of his directoral instincts, Alland looks like someone who later might have materialized as an unapologetic California version of Cassavetes. David Thompson said of the New York director that Cassavetes favored stories of ‘basic, unenlightened, unhappily successful people...a rarity, and rigorously shunned in American films’. On a narrative level at least, that does sound exactly like the movie you’re about to see. 

But maybe of more immediate interest are Ruth Roman and Carole Mathews, both of whom give sharply knowing performances as the neighborhood’s dominant but discontented homemakers. They’re both savvy, attractive, overtly sexual women in their late ’30’s who yearn to be more than just material girls and handmaidens to louts.

Mathews is especially affecting as Betty who makes an honest effort to keep her family together if only for their daughter’s sake. At the same time Betty is tempted by her next-door neighbor, a courtly Italian widower (George Dolenz) who shows as much appreciation for her intelligence as he does for her figure in a one-piece.



On the other hand, Betty's philandering husband Gareth (Cassidy) shows her almost no appreciation or any for their teenage daughter, Eileen (Gigi Perreau). Gareth is a jerk. When Betty tells him she’s leaving and that she hopes his money will buy him happiness, he retorts, “With money, who needs happiness”. 

An actor with matinee-good looks, Cassidy was suave and supremely self-confident and brought it all to many of his roles. He projects the preening arrogance that often comes with an unchecked ego. He was perfect for the part of Gareth.   

Cassidy came from the stage and his film performances tend toward the theatrical. In 'Look in Any Window’ he backs off the gas a little and avoids redlining. It's one of his best screen appearances. 

But what of our protagonist, the hapless Greg? It seems all he really needs is a nice girl to relieve him his virginity and his parents to start acting like adults. 

After a nervous showdown, Greg does at least find a sympathetic ear from the cops and an even more sympathetic heart beating in the girl next door. It’s a start on the road to recovery - or maybe just recidivism. 

Meantime, Paul Anka at this point in his career is not yet an actor but whatever his inadequacies they actually serve his part as the sad little doofus he is.


With a better budget and a bigger box-office cast, 'Look in Any Window' might have ended up another melodramatic and overblown paean to teenage alienation like 'Rebel Without a Cause' – a movie which to some now feels paean-fully dated.

Fortunately the much lesser circumstances conspired to keep Look in any Window’ more believably downbeat and honest. Yes, sometimes sleazy, yes, sometimes creepy but in the end this noir-stained drama does a good job of respecting its story and engaging its characters. 'Look in Any Window' manages to rise just far enough above its trashy B-noir origins to succeed and entertain in blissfully unexpected ways. It’s definitely worth taking a peek.



2 comments:

  1. Great write-up. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great site my good man!

    ReplyDelete

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