Fingers at the Window
(1942) 79 min. b&w


Lew Ayres, Laraine Day, Basil Rathbone

Romance and ruthlessness, murders and maniacs in this mystery-packed thriller. So read the tagline for Fingers at the Window.

Fear has gripped the city of Chicago. A series of grisly, yet apparently random, murders have been committed by different killers. And the killers who have been caught by the police are clearly insane. Because of the murders, people are staying home and off the street. This of course has an adverse effect on the theatre, and the play in which actor Oliver Duffy (Lew Ayres) was appearing closes. Now unemployed, he is able to focus his attention on figuring out who is behind these murders, and winning a $25,000 reward. We find out early in the story that Basil Rathbone's character is behind the murders, using hypnotism or the power of suggestion on a weak mind to get mentally ill people to commit murder. What we don't know is why he is doing this. Oliver Duffy is the first person to figure out that the murders are not random, but are targeting specific individuals. He notices a suspicious-looking man following Miss Edwina Brown (Laraine Day), so he follows her home, sets a trap, and catches the would-be killer. After delivering the killer to the police, Oliver escorts Edwina to a hotel for the night. When he spots another would-be killer near Edwina's hotel room, he realizes that someone wants her dead; she's not a random victim. Edwina isn't able to shed any light on the mystery. She has no idea who would want her dead. 

This video clip (from Turner Classic Movies) shows how Rathbone's character persuades a lunatic to commit murder:

 

Oliver Duffy continues his investigation. He learns that all of the killers were at one time patients at an insane asylum, and he figures out that only a psychiatrist would have access to the patient records. Even though Edwina says she doesn't know any psychiatrists, Oliver is sure that there is a connection. He takes Edwina to a local conference at which nearly all of Chicago's psychiatrists have gathered. She looks over the faces in the crowd, but doesn't recognize any of them. Next, they go to the home of Dr. Santelle (Basil Rathbone), a prominent psychiatrist who was absent from the conference, although his paper was presented. When his housekeeper tells him who is at the door, Santelle keeps them waiting. He knows that if Edwina sees him, she will recognize him. To avoid that happening, he gets his manservant to pretend to be Dr. Santelle. Oliver and Edwina are completely fooled, so they leave, wondering where to go next.

Even though Oliver feels as much in the dark as ever, Santelle feels that Oliver is getting to close to the truth. He must be stopped! Two attempts are made to kill Duffy, and the second one (an overdose of insulin) very nearly succeeded. Through a series of misunderstandings, the police come to believe that Oliver Duffy is the murderous criminal, and Dr. Santelle's life is in danger.

Meanwhile, Edwina has followed Dr. Santelle to his home. She caught a glimpse of him at the hospital and recognized him. It turns out that Edwina knew Santelle when she lived in Paris, but he went by a different name then, Cesar Ferrari. She confronts him at his home and he explains that the real Dr. Santelle died in Paris. Cesar stole Santelle's identity in order to claim  a huge sum of money that Santelle inherited. No one in Chicago knew what the real Dr. Santelle looked like. The only people who could expose Cesar as a fraud were the handful of people who knew him in Paris. And so he arranged to have them murdered by ax-wielding lunatics. Of course. It all makes sense now.

In a panic, Edwina tries to leave, and Cesar knocks her out cold. Before he has a chance to kill her, the police knock at the door. He quickly stuffs Edwina into a closet and answers the door. The police are there to warn him that a lunatic named Oliver Duffy is after him. Santelle thought he had killed Oliver, so he blurts out, "That's impossible!" but quickly covers his faux pas. Sure enough, Duffy shows up at Santelle's house and the police grab him. As they are about to leave with Duffy in custody, one of them notices something that indicates Edwina Brown has been in Santelle's house. Realizing that the jig is up, Santelle pulls a gun out and shoots at the police. At this point the police realize they were wrong about Santelle. They return fire and kill him. When Edwina is rescued from the closet, she insists that she must marry Duffy right away. But why? he asks. She is so shaken by her ordeal that she doesn't want to spend a single night alone ever again!


Santelle has Edwina trapped in his home.

The murders end with Santelle's death.

The film is certainly enjoyable to watch, combining light suspense with light comedy. The biggest complaint I have about this movie is that we don't see much of Basil. But what we do see of him is wonderful. He is sinister and scary. Variety reported, "Rathbone makes an elegant menace, cold, bitter, determined to kill all who might cause him to lose his stolen riches."1

Reviews for the film were mixed. The New York Times called it "soft and lukewarm," saying the story was implausible.2 Film Daily reported that it was well-made, well-acted, and exciting.3 Motion Picture Daily reported, "Here is a thriller which should keep the youngsters on the edge of their seats most of the way along, and at the same time should be found entertaining by those of the patrons who like their films with action of the murder variety, plenty of suspense, and a dash of romance."4 Showmen's Trade Review, however, described the film as "average mystery fare."5

Charles Lederer was a noted screenwriter in the 1930s. Fingers at the Window was his first attempt at directing a film. His directing was adequate, but nothing special.

This was the last film that Lew Ayres made before being drafted for the Army. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, the majority of Americans recognized the threat and were united in their support of the war. Anyone who wasn't willing to fight was viewed as unpatriotic or cowardly. Shortly before the release of Fingers at the Window, Lew Ayres announced that he was a conscientious objector. Public opinion turned against him and some of the movie theaters cancelled their bookings of all films in which Lew Ayres starred. According to Motion Picture Daily, "All films starring Lew Ayres, including the 'Kildare' series, were banned yesterday in all Balaban & Katz theatres in Chicago and vicinity and the Great States downstate circuit, totaling 100 houses."6 Other theaters realized that canceling Lew Ayres' films wasn't fair to the rest of the cast. During the war Ayres served in the Medical Corps as a noncombatant.

Watch the trailer for Fingers at the Window:


Rathbone with Lew Ayres and Lorraine Day

 

See more photos on page 2 and page 3.

Cast

 

Credits

 
Basil Rathbone ................. Dr. H. Santelle Production Co. ................ MGM
Lew Ayres ........................ Oliver Duffy   Producer .......................... Irving Starr
Laraine Day ...................... Edwina Brown   Director ............................ Charles Lederer
Walter Kingsford ............. Dr. Cromwell   Asst. Director ................. Bert Spurlin
Miles Mander ................... Dr. Kurt Immelman  

Screenplay ......................

Lawrence P. Bachmann
Charles D. Brown ............ Insp. Gallagher     and Rose Caylor
Cliff Clark .......................... Lt. Allison   Cinematographers ............ Charles Lawton and
James Flavin .................... Lt. Schaeffer     Harry Stradling
Russell Gleason ............... Ogilvie   

Editor ................................

George Boemler
William Tannen ............... Devlan  

Orchestrator ....................

Leonid Raab

Mark Daniels .................... Hagney  

Music Composer .............

Bronislau Kaper

Bert Roach ........................ Krum   Art Director ...................... Cedric Gibbons
Russell Hicks ................... Dr. Chandley   Assoc. Art Director ........ William Ferrari
Charles Wagenheim ........ Fred Bixley   Set Decorator .................. Edwin B. Willis
Robert E. Homans ............ Officer O'Garrity   Recording Director ......... Douglas Shearer
Uncredited Cast:     Costume Design ............. Howard Shoup
Iris Adrian ....................... Babe Stanton   Technical Advisor ......... Charles Mandell
Ruth Alder ...................... minor role      
Ernie Alexander ............. reporter      
Sam Ash ......................... theater stage-manager      
Hooper Atchley ............. ambulance doctor      
King Baggot ................... psyhiatrist at lecture      
William Bailey ................ policeman at hotel      
Arthur Belasco .............. fat man      
Brooks Benedict ........... psyhiatrist at lecture      
Margaret Bert ................ Mrs. Geversar (Dr. Santelle's maid)      
Robert Bradford ............. whistles "Over the Rainbow"      
Ralph Brooks ................. Dr. Shepherd      
Rand Brooks .................. young reporter      
Eddie Buzard .................. tall newsboy      
Bobby Callahan ............. small newsboy      
George M. Carleton ....... meeting chairman      
Wally Cassell ................. photographer      
Eddy Chandler ............... mounted policeman      
Jules Cowles ................... crazy man at clinic      
Mary Currier ................... Miss Hewitt (hospital nurse)      
Cliff Danielson ............... hotel clerk      
Leslie Denison ............... Paul (works for Santelle)      
Lester Dorr ..................... photographer      
Ralph Dunn ................... policeman outside clinic      
Byron Foulger ............... bird man      
Jack Gardner .................. reporter      
Rudy Germaine .............. minor role      
Edward Hearn ................ citizen      
Edna Holland ................. clinic nurse      
John Ince ....................... minor role      
William Lally ................. police sergeant      
George Magrill .............. policeman      
Jerry Maren ................... small boy      
Frank Marlowe .............. cabbie with cat      
Frank McClure ............... psychiatrist at lecture      
Dick Midgley ................. police driver      
Harold Miller .................. psychiatrist at lecture      
James Millican ............... reporter      
Roger Moore .................. Jim (actor)      
Arthur O'Connell ............ photographer      
George Ovey ................... old man with telegram      
Eddie Parker .................... ambulance driver      
Milton Parsons ............... Jarvis J. Banhoff (first axe murderer)      
Lee Phelps ....................... police telephone operator      
"Snub" Pollard ............... minor role      
Frances Rafferty ............ clinic switchboard operator      
Cyril Ring ....................... psychiatrist at lecture      
Edwin Stanley ................ hospital doctor      
Ray Teal .......................... police car #12 driver      
David Tihmar .................. dance teacher      
Emmett Vogan ................ hotel manager      
Frank Whitbeck .............. trailer announcer      
Joe Yule ........................... citizen      
         
         

Photos are from the film Fingers at the Window, copyright Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

 

Notes

  1. Variety, March 16, 1942
  2. Bosley Crowther, New York Times review of Fingers at the Window, April 23, 1942
  3. Film Daily, March 18, 1942
  4. Motion Picture Daily, March 16, 1942, p. 6
  5. Showmen's Trade Review, March 14, 1942
  6. Motion Picture Daily, April 3, 1942, p. 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2014