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Classic Film Review: 'The Face at the Window' (1939) Part Two

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"You won't escape so easily this time!"

Pretty cool, huh? Anyway, Cartier spies a gloved hand at the curtains and fires off a shot, injuring the fleeing prowler’s hand. This, along with some drool Cartier found on the window left by the 'face at the window' after the murder, convinces the clerk there’s more to this serial killer-werewolf-blackmail-bank robbery-reviving the dead business than meets the eye. Hey, 'The Hand at the Curtain' would have made a good sequel to The Face at the Window, and then a whole franchise: 'The Arm of the Armchair,' 'The Foot at the Foot of Our Stairs,' 'The Thumb at the Antimacassar,' and so on.

Luxembourg Gardens
At the Luxembourg Gardens, an unlikely looking couple (a young woman and a middle-aged boatman unidentified in the credits) happen upon the duel and watch from the bushes as Del Gardo’s cronies set upon Cartier and his second: “I’ll show you how I deal with nincompoops,” he cries as Babylon and Bartell tie up Cartier. “Throw him into the river.” This they do, with Babylon musing on the pretty bubbles produced by the sinking bank clerk. Rivers however make Bartell thirsty, so off they go to The Blind Rat. The Boatman and his lady friend race to Cartier’s rescue.

Back at the de Brisson's an inexplicable babbling idiot with a right shoulder at several degrees latitude removed to the left informs the grieving Cecile that Cartier wishes to meet with her at The Blind Rat, and a visually impaired vermin might have delivered the message a bit quicker. Once there however, Cecile finds only Del Gardo, who relishes his chance to tell her of Cartier’s death, and as this is Tod Slaughter we’re talking about, that’s plenty of pickle. Cecile again rejects the Lothario, who grapples with “the little fool.”

A cloaked figure enters The Blind Rat, looking as if he’d stepped out from a bottle of Sandeman port. This is infamous forger Jack Rennor, fresh from a daring prison escape, an act earning the respect of Babylon and Bartell, who pine for the days of Jack Sheppard. Summoned by La Pinan, Del Gardo questions his old friend Rennor. Realizing this man is too tall, thin, ignorant and moreover too living to pass as the actually dead Rennor, Cartier flings his disguise aside just as the Inspector arrives. Soon, the air is thick (well, thicker) with accusations as Cartier and Del Gardo charge each other of being The Wolf. To prove otherwise, and to stop “this reiterated nonsense,” the aristocrat removes his gloves, but there is no incriminating gunshot wound. Cartier reacts sensibly by torching the entire building to the ground, busting Cecile out of her locked room and jumping out of a second-floor window to escape via the Parisian rooftops.

The next day at the police station, the Inspector listens to Del Gardo laying it on thick about his loyalty to the de Brisson family, when Cecile arrives with a message from Cartier about the mad professor’s mad experiments and his mad intention to revive the last victim of The Wolf – Cecile’s father! Mad enough for ya? Much desperate and verbose pleadings follow from both parties, but the Inspector goes along with Cartier's idea and suggests they all meet at LeBlanc's for eight o’clock; “Oh, I shall be there...punctually!” replies Del Gardo, straight at the viewer, fearing for his life, given the fate of the scenery Slaughter has just eaten.

Professor Le Blanc finishes his dinner of what looks like mouse bones and pebbles in gravy and returns to his work, so engrossed he fails to hear the conspiratorial turn the soundtrack has taken, of the sort heard in cartoons when the good guys are trying to sneak past the villain. At the cry of a wolf, the face at the window appears snarling, drooling and being all beastly and all. The Professor is attacked – not by the lupine monster, but by Del Gardo, who knifes LeBlanc in le Back. “We have settled our account,” gloats the aristocrat over de Brisson’s corpse, unmoved by a good pun from our villain.

After Del Gardo leaves however, the mad Professor, ever mindful of scientific rigor, jots down a few notes, before departing to the great mad laboratory in the sky. Cartier and company, including that daft boatman for some reason, find the Professor is in less than ideal condition for the night’s experiment, but no matter, as Cartier declares he shall perform the electrical test himself. Huzzah!

The Professor’s dying note indicates the murderer’s name begins with ‘Luc - .’ Amidst much force nine blustering from Del Gardo, The Inspector permits LUCien Cartier to go ahead with the test. With much bubbling of test tubes and volts of electricity, and a positive frenzy of cutaways and close-ups, a hand emerges from under the sheet covering the dead body and completes the note. The murderer is (Chevalier) LUCio Del Gardo!

“Arrest that man!” cries the Inspector. “Yes, I am The Wolf,” cries Del Gardo (he’s not kidding, the way he was clawing at Cecile earlier). “And it has taken a corpse to defeat me!” But – ah ha! – it wasn’t dead banker under the sheet, but a dullard boatman, tricking Del Gardo into unveiling himself. Understandably miffed at this turn of events, the aristocrat jumps out of the window into the river below, swimming with the sublime skill of a hippo and surviving such a hail of gunfire as did for Bonnie & Clyde.

Making it back home, our villain accesses a secret room via a sliding portrait (face it, you’d be

Van Gogh's 'The Brothel'
disappointed if he didn’t) and it's in this lair that he keeps the ‘Face at the Window’ caged; the brute is actually Del Gardo's deformed brother, looked after by him to keep a promise their late mother (proving even murderous villains love their dear old moms). The unfortunate bro acts as a distraction, as Del Gardo sneaks in from behind to stab his petrified victim; it was the brother Cartier wounded, not Del Gardo.

Cartier and friends break in, and Del Gardo attempts to escape by jumping from the window (what, again?) into the river, but The Face reaches from his cage to strangle his murderous brother, sending both plunging to their doom. Cartier and Cecile are free to marry, and glibly assume that they, and all France, are now safe. The whole of France? Good grief, how many people did the Del Gardo brothers kill with that ‘face at the window’ trick?

But that’s the point of melodrama, I guess. You just strap yourself in and take a wild ride through the outer regions of the narrative rollercoaster. Tod Slaughter gives it all he’s got, and your modern ‘reality’ and ‘method acting’ can go hang. Nowadays of course, Slaughter would belt out his lines into half-empty galleries and The Face At The Window would go straight to DVD and clutter up the bargain bins of your local mega-market. As it is, Slaughter’s few films are the only survivors of the great age of the theatrical melodrama, and can still provide an evening’s wild entertainment, just as intended.



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