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What To Watch: An Homage to Classics in ‘The Bedroom Window’

A man falls in an abyss of danger and deceit as he fights to stop a killer.

The Bedroom Window is a 1987 psychological thriller about a woman who witnesses a crime but can’t reveal what she knowns because of her own compromising situation.

The things we do for love, or sex rather. Cheat, steal, lie. As for Terry Lambert (Steve Guttenberg), it begins with a cheat but gets out of hand with a lie, though not the way you expect. “You’re either a romantic fool or an idiot,” he’s told at one point. Sure, he’s covering up for an affair he’s having, but that’s not what he’s actually lying about. Instead, he takes credit for something he didn’t do, something he thinks would make him a hero, but instead puts him in grave danger, and worse, makes him a suspect in a serial murder case.

THE STORY: The woman is Sylvia Wentworth (Isabelle Huppert), the French wife of Terry’s boss Collin (Paul Shenar). She’s known that Terry has had a thing for her for some time, and during a late night party at her and Collin’s home, they sneak away, ending up in Terry’s apartment overlooking a corner of a local park in Baltimore. They flirt a bit, confessing their mutual attraction over a glass of white wine. They clearly want each other, and well, it’s not long before that’s exactly what happens. We cut to them a bit later, in bed, post sex, and they are spent. Nice work, Terry. Terry then heads to the bathroom, and while he’s away, Sylvia hears a woman’s voice below the bedroom window, screaming for help. 

The Bedroom Window
The Bedroom Window, 1987 © De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

That woman is Denise (Elizabeth McGovern), being physically assaulted by an odd looking man wrangling to pull her to the street, She fights him, but he overwhelms her and pushes her to the sidewalk. She’s doomed, however, as Sylvia finally manages to push open the window, the noise alerts him and he runs off, but not before she gets a good look at him. And he her.

The following morning, the papers report the murder of a young woman a few blocks away, and both Terry and Sylvia think it connected, but since she was in his apartment, naked in the window when it happened, she isn’t comfortable calling police. In an attempt to impress her, Terry decides to do if for her, claiming he is the one who saw the attack. Seems simple. It’s actually anything but as he soon becomes obsessed with a possible suspect and then befriends Denise. The two form a partnership of sorts and take to working to try and lure the killer out, all the while as Terry’s story begins to crack as the lies he weaves to protect Sylvia wrap him in suspicion and doubt. The things we do for love.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: It might be a little difficult to think of Guttenberg as a leading man type in an actual thriller, but honestly, he does a good job. He’s no Cary Grant, but there’s an everyman quality to him that serves the project well, especially as the story cranks up. Pay attention to his actions as the plot thickens as he becomes wedged under the weight of his own compounding lies, playing a man who simply wanted to get some obligation-free sex out of a beautiful, yet married, woman, but is led down a rabbit hole of trouble for doing so.

The Bedroom Window
The Bedroom Window, 1987 © De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

What works really well though is Curtis Hanson‘s (L.A. Confidential, 8 Mile) exceptional direction, taking a few pages from Hitchcock, Scorsese, and De Palma, giving the film a great sense of suspense with some deliberate angles and slow pans that never feel manipulative and always have payoff. Honestly, it’s the best part of the film.

GREAT MOMENTS: Speaking of which, at about the 40-minute mark, we see Terry and Sylvia on a park bench, centered onscreen, their backs mostly toward us, our view from a distance as if eavesdropping. Beyond them, people are milling about the park with some classic architecture framing the scene. They are discussing how his handling of the situation is growing distressful, that she is frightened it will lead to her exposure … and end her extremely wealthy lifestyle. She drives a Rolls Royce.

The Bedroom Window
The Bedroom Window, 1987 © De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

It then cuts to two close-ups of her and then him, drawing us right into the conversation, one that sees their relationship move past the sex and into conflict as she tells him that she’s the only one with anything to lose, eventually storming off before Denise makes her way into the moment, keeping Terry off balance as his lies have now affect two women. It’s a great scene.

The Bedroom Window
The Bedroom Window, 1987 © De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

But perhaps the best moment comes in a courtroom as Terry must take the stand as a witness to a crime he didn’t see. He’s questioned by the state’s attorney (Robert Schenkkan), who feels that Terry’s testimony is more than enough to send the accused, Carl Henderson (Brad Greenquist) to jail, but then, Carl’s lawyer, the great Wallace Shawn cross examines. In the room is Denise and Sylvia, and of course Carl, and as the scene brilliantly unfolds, connections are made and a truth is revealed. It’s a sensational moment, one seeped in homage of sorts to a number of great court films but also standing on its own. Fantastic.

THE TALLY: The Bedroom Window never shies away from its influences, instead carefully patterning its story around these contributions. While Guttenberg doesn’t quite have the presence of say a more hardened actor, but there is a naivety about his performance that works. There’s some credibility issues in the latter half as well as the thread that binds Terry to Sylvia don’t seem all the plausible once things get really heavy, and the cheesy 80s electronic score by Patrick Gleeson and Michael Shrieve date the film instead of giving it a needed sense of timelessness. Still, Hanson’s spellbinding direction and a supremely smart script leave this gripping thriller one to watch. It’s well worth finding.

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