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Scarlet Street

The things she does to men can end only one way - in murder!
Scarlet Street
A man in mid-life crisis befriends a young woman after rescuing her from an attack. She believes he is rich and her boyfriend persuades her to con him out of his fortune.
Title Scarlet Street
Release Date 1945-12-28
Genres Drama
Production Companies Diana Productions, Inc., Fritz Lang Productions
Production Countries United States of America


Steve This week's Noir of the Week is Scarlet Street. Its one of my favorite films. Most of you already know the story and hopefully have seen the new release of the film on DVD from Kino International. The film was directed by Fritz Lang and was based on the 1930's French film, La Chienne. Scarlet Street is about a common bank cashier in the 1930s who succumbs first to vice and then murder. I won't give the plot away, because I'd run out of room writing all the film's twists and turns. What I enjoy about this film is the common man (played by Edward G. Robinson) is as selfish as Kitty and Johnny (Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea). There isn't a good person in the whole story. Even his boss (cheating on his wife) and wife (old battle-axe) are evil to a degree. Most critics seem to think the film is a carbon copy of The Woman in the Window. I have to disagree. In that one, Robinson and Bennett are sophisticated and smart (OK, Duryea is the same). Robinson is spending the evening with the beautiful girl on a lark - just so he can brag to his friends. In Scarlet Street, Robinson plays a man who married his wife because he was dying of loneliness. In the middle of Scarlet Street, he says "I've never seen a naked woman!" to his wife giving us a pretty good hint that they never even consummated their relationship. Cross is a dreamer. His two dreams stated in the film was to become a painter and to have a "young girl" fall in love with him. He gets both. But his idea of love and art are selfish. In the book Dark City: The Film Noir by Spencer Selby, Selby writes how two of the characters view art; and how their view helps define them: "The idea of wishful dreams, around which Scarlet Street is built, becomes strongly linked with the idea of art. Cross' standing as Johnny and Kitty's key to riches is totally dependent upon his identity as an artist. To Johnny, great art is a "dream come true" solely because it is worth a lot of money. With Cross, the association of art, wishful dreams and glamorous love was first established in that early dialog with the friend. The link is extended and further clarified when he compares his love for Kitty to his love for art. Though more genuinely aesthetic than Johnny's, this association is really just as selfish and subjective. For both characters, art represents a dreamlike escape from the problems and frustrations that plague mundane existence. Johnny's dream takes a beating when he pierces the illusion of Cross' artistic fame by selling two of his paintings. However, in doing this he has set the stage for real success and a new illusion. As the work of Kathrine March, Cross' paintings become instantly popular and valuable. Johnny engineers this deception solely for his own profit, but thematically his action further reinforces the important link between art and illusion." Selby hits the nail on the head. Art for Johnny means money and for Chris romantic love. Both of these things will eventually destroy both of their lives. Watching the movie again I was taken by the three performances. Robinson plays the sap great. He's not as innocent as I first thought. True, he's run through the ringer. But in the end he kills a woman and lies to send a man to the electric chair. First, I thought that he was haunted by guilt after their deaths. He's not. He's haunted by the fact that he was made a fool of by Kitty and Johnny. Sitting in his room alone at the end he hears Kitty and Johnny's voices taunting him. They're telling him that now they can be together in death all thanks to him. Robinson's performance is more physical than verbal. When he knocks Johnny to the ground with an umbrella in a silent attack, he throws his arm in front of his face trying to block a blow that never comes. Much later, before he kills ice princess Kitty with a pick (appropriate), he walks into the room all hunched over looking much older than when he was walking on clouds in love. And how 'bout when he's forced to do the dishes wearing a flowery apron? Classic. Bennett in the film is the ultimate vamp. In the new print you can see her facial expression change to really tell what she's thinking. Hint: it's usually not what's coming out her mouth. Sure, Chris must be blind not to see he's being taken, but Kitty plays her role well. I love her apartment with dishes pilling up in the sink and her spitting grape seeds around the place. She's a lazy slob with some great legs. Bennett plays the part just right. She like Johnny even though he slaps her around. In fact, that's why she likes him. She states that if Chris wasn't so nice to her she would like him better. Kitty will do anything for Johnny and that's what gets her killed. Duryea is the big bad wolf. Boy is he good in this. Never has a performer been so good at entertaining as well as delivering on a part. The first time I saw this film, about ten years ago late at night on A&E, I remember flipping through a few books trying to find out who this guy was. He plays Johnny just right. His cloths even match his attitude. Everyone knows someone kind of like him. Johnny's always involved in schemes and trying to make it big without really trying. And blaming everyone else for his failures. Remember when Chris walks in and sees the two together in bed? What does Johnny do? He blames Kitty. In fact, every time something goes wrong, he blames her. Can you imagine anyone else pulling off the role? Of course, the film isn't just about the performances. Lang and his crew put together a stunning looking film. There are a number of scenes showcasing the films lighting and camera work (Milton Krasner is the Director of Photography). When Kitty is killed in the white bedroom by Chris; and Chris being haunted by voices in his seedy room come to mind. The script is filled with great dialog and quotable noir lines. Fritz Lang may be remembered for Metropolis, but for me his gift to film lovers is Scarlet Street.

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