Edward G. Robinson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Professor Richard Wanley in The Woman in the Window.
Edward G. Robinson plays a rather different role from his best known performances as gangster like his great work in Little Caesar, as well as this is just a very different role in terms of leading a film noir. Robinson plays a rather low key lead as an aging college professor who we meet when he is having a quiet mid life crises. It is interesting to see Robinson in such a humble role after seeing him succeed so well in the very intense and flamboyant roles in film like Little Caesar and Key Largo. It is no surprise though to see Robinson take on this role which he plays with a great sensitivity particularly early on as he sets up the character of Professor Wanley.
Robinson does not overplay the state Wanley's in too much, and at the beginning of the film plays him as a man very quietly going through this crisis. Robinson portrays it as something Wanley thinks about and is somewhat dreary about but not something that making him obsessive or manic in anyway. Robinson is very good in showing a rather reasonable man being a bit somber about things. Wanley's life is just fine as Robinson plays it but there is just the right amount of boredom suggested by Robinson that gives Wanley the little bit of motivation needed for him to take the path that brings him down the film noir.
Wanley by chance meets a woman used as a model for the portrait and he goes to have drinks with her. Robinson still stays fairly unassuming even as Wanley is going out of his element. What Robinson does do is show Wanley lose that bit of boredom in his voice as he speaks with the young lady. Things quickly go out of hand though when another man appears who quickly attacks Wanley leaving Wanley no other choice but to kill the man in self defense. Wanley know is firmly in the film noir plot with no where to go but deeper into things and here Robinson makes for a very different lead for such a tale.
Robinson is really quite interesting and original in his performance because rather then show a whole new level of excitement as Wanley gets involved in a murder investigation and blackmail, which is often the case with noir leads, Robinson portrays Wanley plain and simply as a man who is too old to be involved in such things. Early on Robinson is very good showing the sheer disbelief at the situation in Wanley over what just happened. Robinson internalizes the crises in Wanley effectively portraying basically how a level headed wiser man would handle such a situation, well a wise man who is not wise enough to call the police and just explain things of course.
What Robinson does more then anything in this role is stay believable as this seasoned professor. This makes for a most unusual protagonist for this plot but quite a compelling one in the different take on the proceedings that we get from it. When Wanley keeps tripping up in front of investigators Robinson makes it the simple very natural mistakes of a man who can't live such life. The best part comes when Wanley needs to dispose of a black mailer. Robinson is actually quite moving in his portrayal of Wanley honestly just trying his best to fix things but he always makes it abundantly clear that this life fits him so poorly that even coming up with the murder method causes him great exhaustion and grief.
The film does not end with Wanley end rather instead with a completely out of left field development that certainly messes with the tone of the picture. It is quite the unnecessary absurdest twist much like the one later seen in 1987's No Way Out, since just like that later film this one easily could have just ended without the twist. To the great great credit of Robinson he plays along with the twist quite smoothly which is quite something considering how extreme the twist is. Robinson plays it well though giving the ending a nice comedic edge as he portrays rather simply but to the point how the plot of the film has basically made Wanley learn his lesson about staring too long at the Woman in the Window.