The Face At The Window (1939): Crazy Like Le Loup
0 comment Monday, June 2, 2014 |
Directed by George King
Written by A. R. Rawlinson and Ronald Fayre, Based on the play by Brooke Warren
Starring Tod Slaughter, Marjorie Taylor, John Warwick, Aubrey Mallalieu, Robert Adair, Margaret Yarde, and Wallace Evennett
"Oh, yes. I shall be there. Punctually."
The foggy, cobblestoned streets of 19th century Paris are the setting for our film, which we see as the thrilling opening musical number reels our ocular orbs in. There�s a bit of exposition in the scrolling text about a dreaded killer that has been haunting the city called Le Loup� The Wolf! But then there�s a more personal statement that shows up at the end that got the thick sludge in my twisted veins pumping harder: "This melodrama of the old school� dear to the hearts of those who unashamedly enjoy either a shudder or a laugh at the heights of villainy." Gadzooks! This film is speaking my language already! With bated breath and sweaty palms, I journey on.
Young bank clark Lucien Cortier (John Warwick) is just finishing up the books at the offices of M. Brisson�s bank when a horrifying howl ruptures the night air. Realizing it is the call of Le Loup, he rushes down the hall and finds the night watchman Pierre, stabbed in the back and stammering of a face he had seen at the window shortly before he dies. Not only was Pierre killed but it seems that a hefty stash of funds was stolen from the bank! The policeman heading the investigation, Inspector Gouffert (Robert Adair), suspects that the murder was an inside job and that Lucien is the culprit. Seeking to clear his name and simultaneously win the hand of his beloved Cecile de Brisson (Marjorie Taylor), Lucien pleads her father (Aubrey Mallalieu) to allow him to discover the true criminal.
Come on now! Two syllables... rhymes with "Da Soup"...
In order to reestablish public trust in his bank after the theft, Brisson enlists the aid of aristocrat Chevalier Lucio del Gardo (Tod Slaughter). Upon his grand entrance, the chevalier shows what a charming personality he has by soaking Cecile�s hand in wet kisses and being a general ass to Lucien at the same time. Lucio consults with Brisson on the recent string of killings; Le Loup has struck six times within the last two months and has the entire city gripped in a mad panic. But Lucio tells the banker that he is definitely interested in entrusting a portion of his gold to the bank� on one condition.
Since Lucio�s generosity knows no bounds, he kindly asks the old man if he can make some moves on his daughter, to which Brisson hesitantly concedes. del Gardo attempts to hypnotize the woman with the majestic power of his goatee, but the lass won�t be swayed from her devotion to Lucien. Admitting defeat, the chevalier swings in for the kiss (which undoubtedly has a massive amount of tongue involved) and chuckles evilly as he plots bad things a-plenty.
In the dingy laboratory of Professor LeBlanc (Wallace Evennett), whom everyone in town refers to as "The Mad Professor," Lucien watches in amazement as the kooky scientist uses the power of harnessed electricity to briefly revive a dead bunny. LeBlanc says he shall use his experiments to extract the identity of Le Loup by manipulating his machines on the killer�s next victim, the electricity animating the dead tissue long enough to give some intelligible response. At last the true potential of electricity is finally being fully realized in the realms of mad science! Take that, Edison!
And with just the right application of electrical energy, this gas station burrito might be fit for human consumption!
Meanwhile the chevalier has got some chores to take care of, namely heading into a smoke-filled tavern called The Blind Rat in the grubbiest side of town. Amidst much prostitute fondling and stereotypically French dance numbers, del Gardo consorts with the sinister house mother La Pinan (Margaret Yarde) and his two cutthroat underlings. Instead of taking up their usual task of snatching pretty, young virgins for Lucio to steal away to his cave of horrors, their assignment is to break into the bank and place a wrapped package into Lucien�s compartment. If they so much as peek into its contents, the chevalier promises to gut their sickly bodies open fish market-style. What none of them realize is that a few fateful drops of wax from a burning candle on the table has struck the seal on Lucio�s ring and left an identical imprint on the paper! PLOT POINT! PLOT POINT!
The next morning Brisson has got a minor case of the grumpy pants and calls Lucien into his office, indicating an anonymous letter he received accusing Lucien of being the criminal responsible behind the theft. Who saw that coming? Outraged but determined to prove his integrity, Lucien confidently walks his boss right up to his desk while all the other clarks act like a bunch of Nosy Nancys. But Lucien�s lower jaw drops like a load of potatoes when Brisson pulls out the package, which is filled with Mexican gold dollars� just like the ones that were stolen! Lucien whines about being innocent, but Brisson relieves him of his employment and tells him to hit the road and forget about Cecile, lest he be turned over to the police.
Just then del Gardo rolls up in a carriage with Cecile as his passenger and Lucien is able to throw a secret message her way while the chevalier discusses business with Brisson inside. Reading her lover�s urgent note, Cecile hightails it into the streets. After signing a document and using his official seal, del Gardo urges Brisson to toss that little punk Lucien into a jail cell when "news" of the clark�s treachery reaches his ears. Brisson, however, is preoccupied with something else� he can�t help but notice that the mark on the package paper matches the chevalier�s seal on the document. Audible gasp! del Gardo is quick on his feet and snatches the paper away, tossing the evidence into the roaring fireplace. The wicked chevalier silences Brisson�s protestations by saying that it is best he forget the entire affair� as he fiendishly puts it: "The fact that I have your daughter with me now should see to that!" My dark heart thumped in delight.
Well, one really good reason why you should marry me is because I said so, bitch!
That night Cecile�s maid Babette and her awesome mustache-endowed lover Pierre steal Lucien into the house so that the hero can consult with his beloved. He promises the worried damsel that he shall sort things out and restore the peace in their ooey gooey love life (note to self: never place "ooey gooey" next to "love life" ever again). Downstairs in the study, Brisson is muddling over that afternoon�s episode when (hang on, brothers and sisters!), a long-haired, snaggle-toothed face glowers menacingly at the old man from his window! Yes, it�s the dreaded Face himself! The tell-tale howl rings out, bringing Lucien to run onto the grounds in pursuit of the attacker. But it�s too late: the stabbed, stiffed remains of Brisson lie dormant in the study.
Lucio conveniently arrives and consoles young Cecile as she weeps over her father�s death. Asking to give his last respects, del Gardo just gives the cadaver a good kick and chuckles heartily over the fallen geezer. At this point I found myself laughing just as jovially; this guy is so ridiculously immoral that I just wanted to give him a huge hug! Lucien returns to spoil the delicious villainy, but that doesn�t stop the dogged del Gardo from pointing the finger at the young man again, noting Lucien�s suspicious absence during Brisson�s murder. Would you believe it? Toddy actually has a pretty good case against the hero!
Fed up with the aristocrat�s douchebaggery, Lucien gives the cad a good slap to the face and the next thing you know it�s going down. del Gardo tells Lucien to bring his game on, because these two mothas are gonna duel to settle their differences. Lucien accepts the chevalier�s date at the Luxembourg Gardens, comforting Cecile by telling her that cowards like del Gardo always talk a better game. Showing he has a little bit of badass in him, Lucien pulls out his heat when a hairy, twisted claw looms from behind a curtain, balancing a dagger that has Lucien�s face for a target. The bank clark blasts a whole through the assailant�s right hand and the would-be killer goes shrieking into the darkness before he can be apprehended.
Chuck E. Cheese wasn't always the kid-friendly place that it is.
The chevalier returns to The Blind Rat for more scheming of plunders and plots. del Gardo isn�t prepared to play fair and enlists the aid of his henchman to ensure that he walks into the duel bulletproof. The stage is set in the gardens for the defining moment, but just as Lucien turns about to deliver his shot he is struck down himself by a rock thrown from Lucio�s accomplices in the bushes. Snickering all the while, del Gardo gloats of his sexual prowess as Lucien is tied and gagged, the chevalier�s final order being to throw the squirming wretch into the river. Good thing Lucien also had eyes watching out for him, as Babette and cook Gaston fish their mistress� beau out of the water once the dirty dunces have left the scene.
A hunchback trying to pull his best Peter Lorre later arrives at Cecile�s front door with a message, telling the maiden (in an aggravatingly elusive manner) that Lucien has asked his beloved to meet him at The Blind Rat on a most important matter. Entering the decrepit tavern, Cecile is practically molested by the call girls as they ravage her body with their hands (and who can blame them� she�s wearing a FABULOUS fur-lined nightie!). La Pinan knowingly guides the unsuspecting Cecile up to a private apartment where she sees it is the treacherous chevalier who has actually summoned her! Well, I was surprised�
del Gardo tells Cecile that her lover fled in true pansy fashion from the duel and once again tries to ignite the romantic sparks in Cecile�s heart, but instead gets her frigid shoulder. Just as Lucio tries getting frisky (even locking the door as he chases Cecile down!), a mysterious figure enters The Blind Rat, claiming to be a notorious coiner recently escaped from prison and requesting Lucio�s company. The chevalier descends the stairs with an extreme case of blue balls, but he knows something fishy is up. Tearing off his guest�s false goatee, del Gardo reveals that it is Lucien in disguise, as the real criminal had been gunned down by police earlier that day. How inconvenient!
The chevalier�s slimy crew holds the hero in place as Inspector Gouffert and his fellow policemen arrive at the scene. The chevalier claims to have caught the dreaded Le Loup, but Lucien is convinced that del Gardo is not only the criminal responsible but that he�s also the attacker that he shot at on the night of Brisson�s murder. Daring del Gardo to remove the glove on his right hand to reveal the gunshot wound, the aristocrat at first declines but is urged by Gouffert to carry out the request. Slowly and oh so deliberately, the chevalier removes the black glove from his left hand. All clear. And then, finger by finger, he unveils the right hand and we see� nothing. His hand is free of any wound or scar. A crooked smile creasing his face, he smugly asks Lucien "Satisfied?"
Seeing that his plans have been foiled, Lucien pulls a Hail Mary pass and races up the stairs, holding a lantern threateningly and promising to burn the place to the ground if anyone tries to apprehend him. Lucio makes the first move and up The Blind Rat goes in flames, giving Lucien and Cecile just enough time to escape across the roof. The next day del Gardo is ranting and raving over Lucien in Gouffert�s office when Cecile shows up with a proposition. She says that Lucien will give himself up only if both the investigator and chevalier attend a demonstration at Professor LeBlanc�s home, a demonstration which will include the discovery of Le Loup�s identity with the help of the mad doctor�s electro-goobidygops! Realizing what he must do, del Gardo smiles slyly out at us, the audience, as he promises to be at the Mad Professor�s house alright. Mwahahaha!
See to it that the camera is working alright, the mule is pure bred, and the midget contortionists are free of diseases.
That night as rumbling thunder clouds war in the dark sky, LeBlanc is just finishing up dinner and a few last minute touches on the machines when� (dun dun dun!)� the hideous face appears at the window in a ghostly haze, drooling a dark ichor from its cracked lips. The professor has just a few seconds to grip his head melodramatically and stay in his spot long enough for del Gardo to appear, smiling mischievously as he advances on his victim from the cloak of the draperies. Raising his deadly dagger high, the chevalier sinks the blade into LeBlanc�s back, grinning even as the doc gives out a final "You!" before collapsing to the floor. My undergarments remained blown off for several weeks after watching that scene. It was THAT awesome.
But wait! Our dear professor isn�t gone just yet. With the last few remnants of life still clinging to him, LeBlanc scrawls a quick message on a note before giving his final death groan. Soon Lucien and Cecile discover the body, but after reading LeBlanc�s note Lucien is determined to carry on with the experiment. Bringing in the special guests, Lucien explains to the inspector that he will be conducting the demonstration despite the doc�s absence and del Gardo�s sarcastic quips.
Gesturing to the sheeted stiff on the lab table, Lucien says that the victim will write the true name of Le Loup on a note once the electricity has successfully manipulated its musculature. The professor was just able to write the first few letters of his murderer's name "L, U, C, I," to which del Gardo claims he was trying to spell "Lucien Courtier." Unfazed, the bank clark begins to work the weird science as the thunder growls in the air. Everyone stands tensely, watching for any signs of life in the still hand. Just when it looks like all is lost� THE HAND STIRS! In short, jerky movements the appendage grips the pencil and jaggedly writes down the identity of its killer. Grabbing the slip, Lucien proclaims that the identity of Le Loup is none other than the Chevalier Lucio del Gardo! Genuine astonishment!
On that dark and stormy Family Fun Night, the gang decided to make their game of Mad Libs a little more interesting.
But del Gardo isn�t one to be taken so easily! Whipping out a gun, the chevalier deliriously confirms that he is the killer, only to see that it was Gaston under the sheet and not the extinct remains of LeBlanc! How do you like that� Lucien didn�t even no how the damn machine worked and he still outsmarted the villain! No matter, del Gardo gives off a shot and jumps out the window into the river, swimming all the way back to his mansion. Laughing maniacally, del Gardo runs into his house and, through a secret passageway hidden behind a moving portrait (!), descends into the subterranean dungeon below.
And what should we find there other than the Face himself, locked away in a cage. Turns out the deformed creature is del Gardo�s foster brother who was entrusted to the chevalier�s care when the thing�s mother had died. The group of heroes break into the basement just as Lucio is preparing to push the cage through an opening in the wall into the cold river below. Distracted for just too long, del Gardo is gripped by the hairy hand of his brother and the two go tumbling down to their freezing, watery graves. Now with the city of Paris safe from the menace of Le Loup, the lovers embrace to see another sunrise.
So for those of you who weren�t able to tell from my review, I LOVE this movie! Dare I say it, it is perhaps the best Slaughter feature I watched during the entire marathon. It simply has everything that made all of his other movies so great, and more. Yes, and MORE! Even with Sweeney Todd under his belt, The Face at the Window is probably Toddy�s most horror-tastic film to come from his distinguished resume. Let�s take a look at some of the great things that are at work here in this most wonderful tale of melodrama and madmen.
For one, I think it�s safe to say that Chevalier Lucio del Gardo is hands down my favorite Tod Slaughter villain. Yes, say what you will about the unbridled insanity of his infamous killer barber (and believe me, I adore Sweeney too), but del Gardo has a real class to him and it allows Slaughter to put his acting magic to full use. The chevalier is charismatic and quite grand, and Slaughter gives him that perfect balance of high society righteousness and black-hearted villainy.
I made a similar comparison to his Squire Corder from Murder in the Red Barn, but Tod has perfected the rudimentary formula from that film and made it into an honest-to-God art here. Just the way he carries himself about in that cloak, whether he�s stalking a victim or making a pretentious entrance, it�s nothing short of calculated perfection. Slaughter is at his most ruthless, cunning, sadistic, and menacing best here. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
I'll give ya a blowjob for a nice grilled cheese sandwich.
The Face at the Window has a lot of great horror aesthetics working in its favor as well. From the mad machinations of the sanity-questionable professor and the potential for living deadites to start walking around to the murderous Le Loup (if only he was an actual werewolf� then we would�ve REALLY been cooking!) and the tempestuous, gloomy atmosphere, this is the film that is the most similar in tone to those great chillers and thrillers that were being put out by Universal and other Hollywood studios across the Atlantic at the time. These touches give the story a really wonderful, Gothic feel, spicing up the melodrama/penny dreadful formula that became stale in other Slaughter installments with a dose of good old fashioned terror and nightmarish images.
Along these same lines, The Face at the Window is the most cinematically complete of all the Slaughter films, in my opinion. Even in the other vehicles that were helmed by George King (this film�s director), Slaughter�s movies had a tendency of creaking just a little too loudly; the movies seemed more like filmed stage plays (in the bad way) than actual cinematic experiences. Here, though, you never doubt for a second that what you�re watching is a fully composed film, as strange as that may sound.
The editing is smooth and graceful, save for the moments (especially in the finale) where quick cuts are effectively used to heighten tension. There�s always a constant undercurrent of action in each scene, whether subtle or explicit, where you�re never left feeling as if nothing is happening. It�s a quick and efficient operation, enhanced only by some fabulous set pieces such as The Blind Rat tavern and a rousing score that plays throughout the film at a regular pace (instead of just at the very end like most of Slaughter�s other films).
With all of these things going for it, The Face at the Window is a ridiculously fun and fast paced installment in the annals of Slaughter villainy. Its plot elements will sate the appetite of any hungry horror fan and the marvelous performance given by the man himself remains unparalleled. Catch this glorious piece of classic horror gold before it�s too late. Before� no� the Face� the FACE!
There's no business like show business, eh, Wolfie?

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