The following review is one of several that I composed for the ClassicFlix site under the column title “Where’s That Been?” Most of those columns made the transition to CF’s new site but some of them stayed behind for reason or another…and since my writer’s ego is just big enough to where I don’t like having what I’ve penned shielded from the large number of folks who surf the Internets I have reprinted it here. Enjoy!
I’ll say this for The Shadow on the Window (1957), one of five films that make up the box set Columbia Film Noir Collection, Volume 1—it does not waste time getting started. After the opening credits roll, we witness a young boy (Jerry Mathers) carrying a basket of fruit outside of a farmhouse…and he takes the opportunity to climb a tractor parked outside and sit in the driver’s seat, pretending to take it for a ride. He’s interrupted by a woman’s piercing scream and the youngster heads for the house, where through a window he witnesses an elderly man being beaten to death by three punks. Boom! We’re off to the races.
The kid, eventually identified as Petey Atlas, is picked up wandering along the highway (the incident has left him in a state of shock) by two gearjammers who leave him with a dispatcher (Jack Lomas)…and he fobs the little rugrat off on the police. One of the cops (Sam Gilman) recognizes Pete and informs his father Tony (Philip Carey) that he’s at the station. Tony can’t understand why his son won’t respond to questions or speak (he finally provides a little information when given a dose of sodium pentothal)…but more importantly, he wants to know where his mother is—since she would never even consider abandoning her child.
Mother Linda (Betty Garrett) is being held hostage by the three youths who croaked the farmer: Jess Reber (John Barrymore, Jr.), Gil Ramsey (Corey Allen), and Joey Gomez (Gerald Serracini). The j.d. trio, tipped off that the old man had quite a bit of loot stashed in a safe inside the house, made their score on the same day that Linda, a part-time stenographer, reported to the residence for a job with Petey in tow. Reber is responsible for killing the farmer, but Gil and Joey are in it up to their necks as well—and so our three young miscreants must plan their escape (they hadn’t counted on Linda as a hostage) while the police attempt to locate Linda’s whereabouts.
The Shadow on the Window was directed by William Asher, whose contributions to cinema number mostly the Beach Party series (though he did helm a nice little underrated Mafia flick called Johnny Cool in 1963) and is better known as a television director-producer, notably on the sitcoms I Love Lucy and Bewitched (which starred his then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery). To be honest,-putting it in a “noir” collection is a bit of a stretch because it’s really more of a straight police procedural…but a darned good cracking one at that. It’s taut and quite suspenseful at times, with an occasional light moment to keep it from being too grim. (My favorite moment: the police have been looking for the first dispatcher to encounter Mathers’ Petey, and when they finally catch up to him, they tell his wife she’ll have to wait until they’ve finished questioning him because she also wants to know where he’s been.)
John Barrymore, Jr.—also known as John Drew Barrymore–is probably best remembered as the father of Drew Barrymore and son of The Great Profile himself. John, Jr. had a knack for playing troubled youths, notably in The Big Night (1951) and While the City Sleeps (1956), and like his famous pop gradually became a wastrel who partook of far too much substance abuse. So it’s a little ironic to see his character salivate over the contents of the farmer’s liquor cabinet, knowing what’s in store for the actor who sadly squandered a great deal of his talent.
Shadow is a great showcase for many familiar TV faces: star Philip Carey (billed as Phil) is best known to soap opera fans as One Life to Live’s Asa Buchanan (though there are some of us out there who remember him better as Laredo’s Captain Edward Parmalee) and his co-star Betty Garrett will probably be more recognizable to couch potatoes as landlady Edna Babish from Laverne & Shirley than the talented gal who graced the cast of movie musicals like On the Town (1949) and My Sister Eileen (1955). Paul Picerni, who plays one of Carey’s fellow cops, is a couple of years away from The Untouchables and Corey Allen, who challenged James Dean to a “chicken run” in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), later plied his trade as a successful small screen director. (And of course—there’s Jerry Mathers…as The Beaver.)
Then there are the uncredited bits from familiar faces that make you giggle: Norman Leavitt, a veteran thesp with a film-and-TV resume as long as your arm, plays a postman…just as he did on TV’s Mayberry R.F.D. Mel Welles, aka Gravis Mushnick from The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), makes a brief appearance as a suspect questioned by the police, and there are also bits from Dave Barry (the comedian, not the humor columnist), George Cisar, Henry Corden, Bill Erwin, Eve McVeagh, Mort Mills, and Angela Stevens. The Shadow on the Window is very much a product of its time…but there’s more to it than meets the eye.