Scarlet Street (1945)

The final film I’ll be reviewing from the huge Columbia Noir Collection over on The Criterion Channel is a rather interesting picture called “Scarlet Street”. Released in 1945, and directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, It’s a tale of love and loss, youth and wisdom, and a cruel trick played on an innocent man.

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Starring the legendary 1920’s and 1930’s Gangster film star Edward G. Robinson (seriously, when you see this guy, if you grew up watching classic Looney Tunes cartoons, you’ll know him instantly). Taking a sharp turn from dangerous gangster, Robinson plays an innocent cashier and an amateur artist, who falls for a much younger woman, even though he is (unhappily) married himself. The first mistake of his inevitable downfall.

The woman he falls for, he finds in the street while on the way home from his 25th anniversary at his job. She’s being beaten by an unknown assailant and Chris knocks the man to the ground and gets the police to arrest the man. By the time he returns with an officer, the man has disappeared, but the woman is waiting for him, to gratefully thank him. Chris walks her home, learns her name is Kathrine “Kitty” March (Played by Joan Bennett), and they stop to have a drink at a small pub. Chris gathers his courage and asks if they could see each other again, but Kitty says she has no phone, and a roommate that doesn’t take kindly to strangers, but she says he can write to her if he wishes.

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Joan Bennett was an actress who appeared on stage, film, and television. Her family was a showbiz family, along with her, she had three other sisters who were also actresses. Starting a career on stage and moving into film, silent era films first before “talkies”, she would go on to star in over 70 films. She also formed a professional relationship with Fritz Lang, starring in 3 of his films (Man Hunt (1941), The Woman in the Window (1944) and, of course, Scarlet Street (1945)).

Chris does indeed write to Kitty, but she has no interest in him, really. She’s young enough to be his daughter anyways. She and her real boyfriend Johnny (played by Dan Duryea), are a couple of con artists, and quickly develop a plan to gaslight Chris, thinking that he is a famous artist selling paintings at $50,000 each. (He’s not, he’s never sold anything)

The con goes on and on, Chris begins stealing from his wife as well as his company to pay for things that Kitty wants, including a huge apartment in Greenwich Village. The apartment works out for Chris though, his wife threatens to toss out all of his “terrible artwork”, so he moves his paintings and supplies to Kitty’s.

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Johnny then invites over an art critic and a collector, who say that Chris’s work is fantastic modern art, and that it would be worth a fortune. Johnny quickly gets the idea to name the painter as Kitty herself. The con continues…

 

Soon Kitty is selling Chris’s work as her own, Chris finds out, and when he learns things are selling, he is thrilled! He says, of course, Kitty can sell under her name, no one wants to buy from an old man. Still thinking that Kitty is in love with him, Chris forms a plan with a ghost from his wife’s past to get him out of his marriage so he can be wed to Kitty herself.

After his wife is taken care of, Chris rushes to Kitty’s, only to learn the truth. That Kitty and Johnny are really a couple. Worse, that it was staged from the get-go. He hides, waiting for Johnny to take off, then goes to confront Kitty. Rage in his body, and betrayal in his heart, he stabs Kitty to death, but brilliantly has all the evidence point to Johnny. Johnny gets the Chair, and Chris returns to his job.

His first day after all of this, his boss calls him into his office with two police officers. The boss knows he’s been stealing from him, and, being the kind hearted man he is, does not press legal charges, but he does fire Chris. Things really go downhill from here.

Chris goes mad. Hearing voices of both Johnny and Kitty, feeling the guilt eat away at his heart and soul. We end the film with Chris homeless sleeping in a park, not even the police believe his story when he confesses everything to them, the closing scene has Chris walking past the gallery that sold his artwork under Kitty’s name, with the last picture being sold as he walks past for $10,000. Fade to black…

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A cautionary tale if there ever was one. Fritz Lang delivers a master of a film. While over on Letterboxd (whetzelj82) I only gave it a ⅘, that was mainly due to pacing problems. The film is over 100 minutes long, and there are a few areas that could have definitely been trimmed or cut out completely. 

Edward G. Robinson is one of the most acclaimed actors in the history of film. During his 50 year career he starred in over 100 films. In the 30’s and 40’s he was known politically as outspoken against the Nazi party. He was honored with a posthumous Academy Award Lifetime Achievement Award for his life in film, two months after his death in 1945. The American Film Institute has him listed as #24 out of 25 of the Greatest Male Stars of Classic American Cinema.

Fritz Lang is definitely ranked in the top 10 percentile of Classic film directors. His list of films is staggering. Starting with the groundbreaking and often copied “Metropolis” (1927) and the classic “M” (1931) continuing through the 50’s with the films “Woman in the Window” (1944) and “The Big Heat” (1953). The British Film Institute named him the “Master of Darkness” and if you begin exploring his vast filmography, you will quickly understand why.

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Exploring the Columbia Noir Collection over on The Criterion Channel has been a blast! So many great films to watch and learn from, so many interviews to explore, and stories to be heard. I definitely recommend checking things out at: www.criterionchannel.com for a 14-day free trial!

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment here or email me at: jwhetzelphotography@gmail.com. All the best, and be sure to stay safe out there!

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