Fingers at the Window (1942): Charles Lederer’s Noir Mystery, Starring Lew Ayres and Larraine Day

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Charles Lederer directed Fingers at the Window, a modest, lukewarm mystery noir, released by MGM.

The Premise: When the tale begins, an axe murderer in Chicago has already killed six victims.

Police inspector Gallagher with psychiatrist Dr. Immelman have arrested a different man for each crime. When all of them are impervious to interrogation, lost in a state of paranoid schizophrenia, they are institutionalized.

A mysterious figure in the shadows counsels a seventh man, a seemingly harmless bird shop owner, that he must kill dancer Edwina Brown (Laraine Day), because she has ruined his life. He hands him an axe, and the man goes after her.

While actor Oliver Duffy (Lew Ayres) walks home after his play has closed, he sees the man shadowing her, and decides to escort her home. Oliver keeps watch on the fire escape outside her window all night.

The next day, Oliver takes measures for Edwina’s safety as she returns from work, sending a taxi (with her cat in it) to take her home, and arranging a dummy figure in her bed.

The bird-shop owner attacks the dummy with the axe; they raise the alarm, and he is captured.

At the police station, he too is unreachable, obsessively rearranging little slips of paper with meaningless writing on it. Oliver gives one to Edwina as a souvenir, and the police put her up in a hotel.

At the psychiatric hospital where all the arrested men are kept, Oliver pretends to be schizophrenic to get in and investigate. All 7 men who did the axe murders are there as patients of another psychiatrist at the hospital, Dr. Santelle (Basil Rathbone). Oliver concludes that the mastermind who is hypnotizing the patients to murder must he a psychiatrist.

Santelle catches Edwina and forces her inside, where he reveals his reason for getting his patients to kill the men: he is not actually Santelle, but impersonated him to claim his inheritance in Chicago when Santelle died in Paris.

The police are convinced Oliver is crazy until one man  spots the paper Edwina had got from the lunatic on the floor. “Santelle” shoots at the police in effort to get away, and Gallagher shoots him dead.

In the end, Oliver and Edwina are happily reunited and plan to get married.

The plot is too convoluted for its own sake, and not always convincing.

Lew Ayres and Larraine Day make an appealing couple.

The movie was not particularly popular at the box-office.

Lew Ayres as Oliver Duffy
Laraine Day as Edwina Brown
Basil Rathbone as Dr. H. Santelle
Walter Kingsford as Dr. Cromwall
Miles Mander as Dr. Kurt Immelman
Charles D. Brown as Inspector Gallagher
Cliff Clark as Lt. Allison
James Flavin as Lt. Schaeffer
Russell Gleason as Ogilvie
William Tannen as Devlan
Mark Daniels as Haguey


TCM showed it on Sep 17, 2021