Saturday, March 3, 2012

Scarlet Street

Directed by Fritz Lang.
1945. Not Rated, 103 minutes.
Edward G. Robinson
Joan Bennett
Dan Duryea
Rosalind Ivan

Christopher (Robinson) is going through a middle-age crisis and feels trapped in a loveless marriage. When the young and beautiful Kitty (Bennett) shows some interest in him, he immediately falls head over heels. Believing him to be a wealthy and famous painter, Kitty sets out to bilk him of his money at the behest of her abusive boyfriend Johnny (Duryea). Lots of lying and conniving ensues. This is an underrated WWII era gem with a dizzying number of plot twists. Each of them is expertly handled and continues the movie's spiral towards it's dark conclusion. In fact, it's ending is so dark I'm convinced that director Fritz Lang truly hates Christopher. Edward G. Robinson trades in his more famous gangster motif for that of a square and is as brilliant as ever.

MY SCORE: 10/10

1 comment:

  1. How did I miss that you wrote up this super film? It really is one of the seminal noirs with pretty much every trope of the genre included and done right. It's a kind of filmmaking that Lang truly understood and in this instance working with a strong script and a perfectly cast group of performers he was able to craft a masterpiece.

    Lang-a notoriously contentious and demanding director and Joan Bennett-a tough straight shooter who was able to give as good as she got, had a fruitful collaboration through five films (more than any other performer) until even she wouldn't put up with him anymore. The other four, Confirm or Deny (uncredited) Man Hunt, The Secret Beyond the Door..., The Woman in the Window (also with EGR and Duryea) are well worth seeing but this is the high point of their association. Her silkily amoral Kitty is so vile to Christopher that you wonder how he can put up with it but she also imparts a keen sexual allure in her wantonness that you understand that's her hold on him. It's complex work matched by EGR (and Duryea is a perfect bastard) quite compelling and brilliant.

    This came during Joan's peak years (she had a LONG career her first credited role was in 1929-her first actual appearance was in 1916 when she was six, her parents were famous actors and she played a small part in one of their features-her last in 1982) after she had left her blonde leading lady years behind. She made a film called Trade Winds where she was a woman on the run from a murder charge and started the picture as a blonde then went incognito as a brunette and discovered it sharpened her presence and never went back. Almost immediately the quality of her films improved and she went from stock leading lady to star. Aside from the Lang films some other movies she made that are worth giving a shot: The Macomber Affair, The Reckless Moment (two excellent pieces of work), The Woman on the Beach (directed by Jean Renoir) and Hollow Triumph.

    EGR could play almost anything and calibrate his persona and gestures to be the most evil or the gentlest of characters, something he shared with James Cagney. Just about every film he made is worth seeing for his involvement if nothing else but a few lesser known gems are: Night Has a Thousand Eyes, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, Black Tuesday and The Sea Wolf (a fascinating psychological drama set at the turn of the last century full of noir shadows set on a ship called The Ghost that also has Ida Lupino and John Garfield in the cast)

    Duryea specialized in the low-life skunk (ironic since he was a long married family man behind the scenes known to be a kind generous person) and few did it better. He was almost always the second lead but added a memorable touch often being the reason to see some of the films. Some of his better roles and films: The Little Foxes, Too Late for Tears (with a wonderfully soulless Lizabeth Scott), This is My Love (a noir in lurid Technicolor based on a story called Fear Has Black Wings and award level performances by both he and Linda Darnell), Larceny (alongside a young and incredibly thin Shelley Winters) and Criss Cross (another terrific noir with Burt Lancaster and Yvonne de Carlo)

    So what was the reward for this trio of expert performers? That would be zero Oscar nominations for all throughout their careers!! Illustrating the dangers of always being good, when you're outstanding it's passed by because its expected.

    So short story long! I love this film!