Based on J. H. Wallis' novel Once Off Guard, the story features two surprise twists at the end. Scriptwriter Nunnally Johnson founded International Pictures Incorporated (his own independent production company) after writing successful films such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and other John Ford films, and chose The Woman in the Window as its premiere project. Director Fritz Lang substituted the film's dream ending in place of the originally scripted suicide ending, to conform with the moralistic Production Code of the time.
The term "film noir" originated as a genre description, in part, because of this movie. The term first was applied to American films in French film magazines in 1946, the year when The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Laura (1944), Murder, My Sweet (1944), and The Woman in the Window were released in France.
After killing for her in self-defense, she then is blackmailed by Heidt (Dan Duryea), a slick, criminal, ex-policeman who had been the dead man's body guard.
When the film was released, the staff at Variety magazine lauded the film and wrote, "Nunnally Johnson whips up a strong and decidedly suspenseful murder melodrama in Woman in the Window. Producer, who also prepared the screenplay (from the novel Once off Guard by J.H. Wallis) continually punches across the suspense for constant and maximum audience reaction. Added are especially fine timing in the direction by Fritz Lang and outstanding performances by Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey and Dan Duryea.