This is one of those quiet movies that most people have forgotten, but still sizzles after all these years. I dare say those who didn’t see it in its initial run have never even heard of it. It’s a very entertaining film with lots of twisty noir style detective flavor. The ending is not as satisfying as the rest of the film, but it’s easily overlooked when you consider the lead is Steve Guttenberg…that’s right…the dorky guy from the Police Academy movies…and he’s awesome here as the doe-eyed idiot who sleeps with his boss’s wife. And that’s just the first in a one series of mistakes that lands him in the middle of a multiple murder investigation as the prime suspect.
For this film I’d like to discuss the concept of Character Motive. Motive is the reason or driving force behind an action. You hear actors all the time asking, “What’s my motivation?” It’s cliché, but in crime dramas, it’s usually what fuels the crime and uncovering it can lead to resolution. In real life, when heinous things occur like school shootings or terrorist acts, people scratch their heads and ask, “Why?” It’s our nature to need a reason we can understand to, if not justify the actions, to at least comprehend and contextualize them.
On the Middle Ages we’d just put this kind of behavior down to being possessed by a demon or it was a reaction to the phases of the moon. That’s, by the way, where the word lunacy comes from. Crime theory has been around since the 1700s when Italian Cesare Beccaria posited a link between “justice” and punishment. He claimed that the punishment should not be excessive and should be used as a deterrent to criminal conduct. He also thought it only fair if these punishments were written in advance so all could know what to expect. Unfortunately, Beccaria’s theories only work if criminals are rational beings whose behavior is the result of a rational thought process. We know from our modern perspective that many crimes are committed by people with mental health issues, out of passion, brain irregularities, PPDS, and or desperation.
Then we get Jeremy Bentham’s “Hedonistic Calculus” theory which rests on the thought that people will only NOT commit crimes is the punishment outweighs the reward. He did agree with Beccaria that punishment should be a deterrent to crime. Years later, the belief that physical traits had a hand in a person’s criminality took hold and phenomenon’s like phrenology had their day. There were even links to Darwin’s theories of evolution used to back being “Born a criminal” as physical characteristics of primitive man were seen as sure signs of potential criminal activity. Even tattooing was seen as criminal.
Punishment as a deterrent doesn’t really work because most criminals don’t think they will ever get caught. And sociopaths don’t really anticipate personal consequences. They feel no remorse, so rational empathy for the victims of their actions is a mute point.
Anyway, what does all this have to do with Bedroom Window? The two leads discuss at length the WHY of the killer’s actions, but what is also on the table for observation is the WHY of why Guttenberg’s character choses to lie about witnessing an attempted assault. Sure he’s doing it to protect the reputation of his boss’s wife who is the actual witness to the crime, but she points out that he also does it because he’s “grandstanding” for her and then later for the police. That he does it somehow for the thrill and the attention. And it’s a valid point. It’s said by another character that he does it because he’s either hopelessly romantic or an idiot.
Whatever the reason, it’s always good to look at every character’s motivation, not just the bad guys. It’s also important to ask about motivation of crime in the real world where we seem only interested in apprehension and punishment. Know the WHY may lead us to being able to stop many crimes before their perpetrators have the chance to develop into the sociopaths we’ve come to abhor.