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Unlike many of the teenage pop stars of the fifties like Tommy Sands, Bobby Rydell and Fabian, Paul Anka was unique in that he not only wrote most of his own hit songs such as "Diana" and "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," but he also penned signature songs for other musical legends such as Buddy Holly ("It Doesn't Matter Any More"), Frank Sinatra (Anka wrote the English lyrics to "My Way," a French song by Claude Francois, Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibault) and Tom Jones ("She's a Lady"). It was inevitable that Anka would try his luck at film acting like most of his fellow teen idols but either due to poor management or misconceptions about his audience, his initial forays into moviemaking were minor efforts, if not downright peculiar.
His first screen credit is for Samuel Fuller's Verboten! (1959), but he only sings the theme song by Mack David and Harry Sukman and does not appear in the movie. For his first screen role in Girls Town (1959), he commands a special "And Introducing Paul Anka" credit in the promotional ads and is even showcased singing such songs as "Lonely Boy" and "It's Time to Cry," but the singer/composer is relegated to the background in this B-movie melodrama of a female juvenile delinquent named Silver Morgan (Mamie Van Doren). In Anka's second feature, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), a tawdry sex comedy with fantasy dream sequences, the teen idol was completely overshadowed by his more high profile co-stars Mickey Rooney, Mel Torme, Tuesday Weld and Mamie Van Doren (again); other than singing the theme song, he was not showcased in any breakout musical numbers. Anka's third film effort, Look in Any Window (1961), at least gave him top billing in a dramatic role but the movie was not what Anka fans wanted, nor was it intended for teenage audiences. With taglines like "The shades are open...and their morals are showing," this lurid expose of suburban life was targeted for adult audiences at drive-ins and theatres specializing in low-budget genre fare.
Although Look in Any Window faded quickly from view upon its release, the movie remains a fascinating curio and walks a tightrope between moralistic drama and pure exploitation. Opening with a shot of a woman on a couch watching television, the camera pulls back to reveal the point of view of someone outside her home, watching her. The voyeur then knocks on her window and runs off as she pulls the drapes across her windows and glass patio door. Her reaction suggests this is not the first time this has happened and we soon learn the neighborhood has been plagued by this peeping tom for awhile. There is no attempt by the filmmakers to conceal the identity of the prowler - we know it is Craig Fowler (Paul Anka) because we see him scale a fence, climb on a rooftop and don a creepy mask to spy on his neighbors Betty Lowell (Carole Mathews) and daughter Eileen (Gigi Perreau) by their swimming pool. When he is spotted, he leaps off the roof and is confronted by Gareth Lowell (Jack Cassidy) who, along with two teenage boys, chase after him. The culprit escapes over a fence into the backyard of the Fowler home and the pursuit ends but two cops set up a stakeout, convinced he will strike again the following night when the Lowells throw their annual 4th of July pool party.
Paul Anka's troubled teen protagonist is only the catalyst to explore the seething dysfunctional underside of the American suburban lifestyle in Look in Any Window. His troubles stem from an unhappy family life with an out-of-work, alcoholic father (Alex Nicol) and a frustrated, lonely mother who is overly protective. But broken dreams, deceit and failed marriages seem endemic to this community. The Lowells are no better off with Gareth depicted as a relentless skirt-chaser while his long-suffering wife Betty stays in the marriage for the sake of their daughter, who is already disillusioned about romantic relationships. Even the new neighbor Carlo (George Dolenz), a widower, is no paragon of virtue despite his genuine empathy for Betty; he makes a pass at her over a late night invitation of cake and coffee. The pervasive atmosphere of unhappiness and festering hostility is also mirrored in the attitudes of the two cops on the beat; Sgt. Webber (Dan Grayam) is almost fascist in his approach to law enforcement ("Let me get my hands on any guy who isn't normal - he'll confess") while officer Lindstrom (Robert Sampson) is the younger college-educated cop and more liberal in his views, a situation that creates animosity between them. Like Anka's obsessive peeping tom, Look in Any Window takes a voyeuristic approach to these damaged lives, which in some ways, mirrors the prophetic words of Carlo in the movie: "Walk down any street, look in any window, see how many of us are sitting there in a dark room while a television eye peeps for us into other peoples' houses, into other peoples' lives. We have become a nation of peeping toms no longer participating in life but getting our pleasure from watching others." The moralistic message-mongering may have the subtlety of a sledgehammer but Look in Any Window also has a lively vulgarity and works on the level of trashy melodrama with some strong performances.
Ruth Roman was past her peak years as a leading actress in Hollywood features by 1961 but she exudes a sultry, earthy sexuality here as a woman who is still highly desirable but struggles to resist marital infidelity. Roman needed strong leading men to balance and compliment her strong screen presence. Kirk Douglas in Champion (1949) was a good match for her but Farley Granger in Strangers on a Train (1951) came off like an underage schoolboy next to her. But if she overwhelms her co-star Alex Nicol in Look in Any Window, it's because her character is obviously the one who wears the pants in the family and even plays her character with a slight but noticeable swagger. The most sympathetic character in the film, though, is Carole Mathews as Betty. A busy actress during the forties and fifties (especially in B-movies and TV), she was at the end of her career as well when she appeared in Look in Any Window (it was her next to last feature). Yet, Mathews makes a vivid impression as a woman unwilling to give up on her marriage without a fight; there is something vulnerable yet unyielding in her hopeful determination to change her life that makes Betty an unusually strong female protagonist for her time. As for the top billed star of the film, Paul Anka gives an awkward, furtive performance which befits his nerdy, introverted character but wasn't compelling enough to garner him bigger and better roles in more mainstream Hollywood movies. Except for a well-received minor role in the all-star blockbuster WWII epic, The Longest Day (1962), Anka would not make any more feature films until the nineties when he turned up in small roles in Captain Ron (1992), Ordinary Magic (1993) and Mad Dog Time (1996).
Look in Any Window was released by Allied Artists, which was formerly known as the poverty row studio Monogram Pictures, and directed by William Alland, who produced a number of successful sci-fi and horror films at Universal-International with director Jack Arnold; among them were Creature from the Black Lagoon(1954), It Came from Outer Space (1953), Tarantula (1955), and The Space Children (1958). On his own as a producer, Alland would tackle more adult themed movies that bordered on exploitation in his latter years that included The Party Crashers and As Young As We Are (both 1958). Interestingly enough, Alland got his start as an actor with Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre group, first on the New York stage and then in radio. Look in Any Window stands as Alland's only directorial effort.
Of the few critics that saw Alland's Look in Any Window, the Variety reviewer blasted it as, "Tasteless and unpleasant...The release amounts to film-making at its most distasteful level. Such pictures are a discredit to Hollywood and a gross distortion of the American way of life." Such a strong critical reaction proves Alland was on to something and Look in Any Window is, in its own engaging, low-class way, a B-movie version of No Down Payment (1957), another tale of suburban angst among married couples but featuring such better known stars as Joanne Woodward, Jeffrey Hunter, Tony Randall, Barbara Rush and Sheree North.
Producer: William Alland, Laurence E. Mascott
Director: William Alland
Screenplay: Laurence E. Mascott
Cinematography: W. Wallace Kelley
Art Direction: Hilyard Brown
Music: Richard Shores
Film Editing: Harold Gordon
Cast: Paul Anka (Craig Fowler), Ruth Roman (Jackie Fowler), Alex Nicol (Jay Fowler), Gigi Pereau (Eileen Lowell), Carole Mathews (Betty Lowell), George Dolenz (Carlo), Jack Cassidy (Gareth Lowell), Robert Sampson (Lindstrom), Dan Grayam (Police Sgt. Webber).
by Jeff Stafford