Wednesday, November 23, 2022

#2,867. Scarlet Street (1945) - Edward G. Robinson Triple Feature


The man behind such classics as Metropolis and M, Fritz Lang fled Germany in 1933 when Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels tried to make him the head of the German film studio UFA. After a brief stop in France, Lang settled in Hollywood, where he eventually found his niche in film noir. Along with turning out such noted titles as Hangmen Also Die and The Big Heat, Lang produced and directed Scarlet Street, an edgy, oh-so-dark drama / thriller starring Edward G. Robinson as full-time cashier and wannabe artist Christopher Cross.

As the movie opens, mild-mannered Chris is the guest of honor at a party celebrating his 25th year with the same firm. While walking home that evening, Chris spots a man on a street corner beating up a woman. Chris rushes over and hits the attacker over the head with his umbrella, at which point the man runs off. Chris then offers to walk the woman, whose name is Kitty Marsh (Joan Bennett), home.

Trapped in a loveless marriage to his shrew of a wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), Chris eventually develops feelings for the much younger Kitty, who claims she is an actress. What Chris doesn’t know is that Kitty is actually a prostitute, and the guy who was hitting her is her pimp / boyfriend Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea).

Believing Chris is a wealthy artist, Johnny convinces Kitty to hit him up for money. Though he himself has very little, Chris doesn’t want to disappoint the new love of his life, so he steals cash from both Adele and his company just to keep Kitty happy.

Johnny even sells some of Chris’s paintings (which he had left with Kitty) to a street vendor, where they eventually catch the eye of a famous art dealer. Impressed, the dealer seeks out the artist, which leads him to Johnny and Kitty. Seeing an opportunity to make a small fortune, Kitty takes credit for the paintings, and soon has everyone in town believing she is a talented artist. But what will happen when Chris finds out?

Lang and his screenwriter Dudley Nichols approach the story at the center of Scarlet Street in an intriguing manner. At the outset, we’re introduced to Chris, who, as played (wonderfully) by Robinson, is kindly but meek. His wife forces him to paint in the bathroom because she can’t stand the smell, and makes Chris do all of the housework. Desperate and lonely, it won’t take much for Chris to fall in love with another woman, and that is exactly what happens when he meets Kitty.

Once their “relationship” is established, the movie shifts its focus, centering a fair portion of its middle act on Kitty and Johnny, and their plans to continue bilking poor Chris out of money he doesn’t have. Dan Duryea has always been a great screen villain, playing the heavy in westerns like Winchester ’73 and Silver Lode, and his portrayal of Johnny in Scarlet Street is no exception. A smooth talker who isn’t above slapping Kitty around, Duryea is positively loathsome as Johnny.

Equal to Duryea every step of the way is Joan Bennett, who, even when she’s pretending to fall in love with Chris, is a little rough around the edges. When playing up to Chris, Bennett’s Kitty is always the stronger of the two, the one in complete control. And the more time we spend with Kitty and Johnny, the more we dislike them, and hope they eventually get their just desserts.

The final half hour of Scarlet Street is chock full of plot twists and revelations, including one about Adele’s first husband that will knock your socks off. But as surprising as its story can be, the last act is also incredibly dark, with moments that, especially at the very end, border on psychological horror.

Bleak, tragic, and very, very engaging, Scarlet Street is one hell of a film noir.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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