When middle-aged milquetoast Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson — Double Indemnity, Little Caesar) rescues street-walking bad girl Kitty (Joan Bennett — The Reckless Moment) from the rain slicked gutters of an eerily artificial backlot Greenwich Village, he plunges headlong into a whirlpool of lust, larceny and revenge. As Chris’ obsession with the irresistibly vulgar Kitty grows, the meek cashier is seduced, corrupted, humiliated and transformed into an avenging monster before implacable fate and perverse justice triumph in the most satisfyingly downbeat denouement in the history of American film.
Both Scarlet Street producer Walter Wanger’s wife and director Lang’s mistress, Joan Bennett created a femme fatale icon as the unapologetically erotic and ruthless Kitty. Robinson breathes subtle, fragile humanity into Chris Cross while film noir super-heavy Dan Duryea, as Kitty’s pimp boyfriend Johnny, skillfully molds “a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tin horn.” (The New York Times). Packed with hairpin plot twists from screenwriter Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach) and “bristling with fine directorial touches and expert acting” (Time), Scarlet Street is a dark gem of film noir and golden age Hollywood filmmaking at its finest. –kino
Born in Vienna in 1890, Fritz Lang was brought up in Viennese middle-class comfort by his Roman Catholic father Anton and his Jewish mother Paula Schleisinger who both hoped that young Fritz would become an architect. But like so many middle-class children of the new century, Lang was fascinated by the pulp and fantasy literature of his day, the art world both in and outside Vienna and a potent new form of entertainment that invited artistic scrutiny and craftsmanship, the motion picture. Though the teenaged Lang attended school as his parents wished, he secretly haunted the cafe’s and cabarets of Vienna and intended to become a painter like his idols Klimt and Schile. At aged 21 Lang’s yearning took him to Paris where he lived in Bohemian splendor until the outbreak of W.W.I. Returning to Vienna, Lang enlisted in the Austrian army where he repeatedly saw combat, was wounded at least three times and decorated twice.
It was while on leave recuperating from one of these wounds… read more
"Scarlet Street" is a noir staple that I'm not entirely convinced is actually noir(!), as it deviates from many of the tenets of the genre. For one thing, our protagonist is a befuddled bank clerk. Regardless of where it falls in the schema of 1940's cinema, "Scarlet Street" neatly qualifies as a must-see. Edward G. Robinson was among the ten best character actors Hollywood ever saw and he's particularly excellent here, playing against type as a henpecked husband with eyes for Joan Bennett. And who can blame him? Joan is so good at playing the femme fatale 'Kitty,' you believe she could turn any man to putty in her hands. At times the script isn't worth the paper it was printed on ("Jeepers, Johnny!" and "For cat's sake!" are repeated ad nauseam) but the performances are always solid and Fritz Lang's mis-en-scene is flawless.
Masterfully directed, this is film noir at its very, very best. Brilliant plotting with great mise-en-scene, the emotionally layered performance by Edward G. Robinson is one of the best I’ve seen for a while. Together, Kitty and Johnny are perhaps the most amoral ‘villians’ noir has seen and the last ten minutes are incredibly chilling and rival any horror film for creating atmosphere and tension.
Scarlet Street is subversive without being forceful. As always, Fritz Lang's mise-en-scene is something to be admired; he captures the moral weight of deceptive exchanges and illusive communication. Edward G. Robinson generates enormous pathos as a figure of bruised masculinity.
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