A Movie A Day: SCARLET STREET! How can a man be so dumb? I’ve been waiting to laugh in your face ever since I met you!
Published at: June 16, 2008, 8:32 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Man, what a twisted little movie this is. We come to SCARLET STREET from CLASH BY NIGHT via director Fritz Lang. The flick stars Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea and is actually a remake of Jean Renoir’s 1931 film LA CHIENNE.
Lang had actually made a couple of films with the three leads and I’m going to have to seek them out after seeing SCARLET STREET.
I read in yesterday’s talkback about there being a debate on whether or not SCARLET STREET classifies as noir and my vote is strongly in the “of fucking course” side.
I don’t think there’s been a stronger femme fatale in a crime movie so far in the AMAD column. Joan Bennett (known mostly for her leading role on DARK SHADOWS and as Madame Blanc in SUSPIRIA) is a Queen bitch in this flick, a master manipulator and just down right dirty birdy.
Edward G. Robinson surprisingly plays a guy beaten down by life, a timid and nervous man who wants nothing more than to be an artist. He’s a hard worker, but he doesn’t take risks. He married someone he hates (at least the feeling is mutual) out of a desire to just settle down, he ploughs away as a bank teller as he dreams of becoming a painter.
One night he stumbles across a man in a hat (I’m sure there’s a very obvious name for the hat, but every time I see it all I think of is Bert when he’s in the painting, doing the penguin dance, in MARY POPPINS) slapping a pretty blonde woman around.
Without thinking, Robinson charges him, knocking him down and out cold. He runs to get a cop despite the woman telling him not to and when he returns with the officer the man has gone. The woman, Kitty, asks to be walked home and that’s when the claws start sinking in.
She’s no good. Turns out the man beating her up is her boyfriend/pimp (pretty risky material for the era) who treats her like shit, but she loves it. He’s a cheap, crook. A dime-store hood as they’d say in the day.
Together they hatch a plan to coerce the poor mild-mannered bank teller into forking over as much money as he can get his hands on, all for the batted eyes and feigned interest of Bennett’s Kitty.
Poor Robinson falls head over heels for this chick. And you think you have it figured out… she’s going to end up falling for this kind dude, this nice man, and they’ll have to figure out a way to ditch the abusive asshole… if they’re really dark, they’ll have Bennett manipulate Robinson to do him in…
You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. This chick doesn’t give two shits for Robinson. He’s only useful as an ATM to her. When he runs dry, that’s it. She’ll move on. She won’t just leave him, she’ll destroy him first, then laugh at the crumbled ruins. Kitty is not just despicable, she’s evil. Almost more evil than Duryea’s Johnny Prince, her pimp. You get a felling with him that he can’t help but be who he is. Kitty has all the choice in the world and revels in being a horrible person.
The movie has a genuinely shocking ending. Nothing happy here and there’s a scene in a hotel room set to the blinking of the neon outside that is absolutely magnificent.
Word is the Kino DVD (linked at the top of the article) is a beautiful transfer from a 35mm negative. Being that this film is in the Public Domain (meaning no one owns the rights and anyone can press a DVD if they want… like with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which is why there are a billion versions out there) I saw a really iffy transfer on a cheapo noir 5 disc set put out by a company called Questar… looked like a 16mm dupe print, muddy and not at all sharp.
However even on the fuzzy low contrast print I could tell the cinematography was outstanding, clearly up to Fritz Lang’s standard, especially the aforementioned hotel scene.
Also of note, legendary make-up effects man Jack Pierce (DRACULA, THE MUMMY, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN, etc.) worked on this flick. I can only assume it was for some aging up of Robinson for a few sequences in the film as we have no creatures or heavily scarred scary bastards in the movie.
Ultimately, this really is a gem of a movie. It’s very much of its time, but you can tell it was pushing the limits of film. Popular trivia says that the flick was even banned in 3 states upon release, but was a huge hit nonetheless. This and GUN CRAZY are my two favorite noirs so far.