theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Fritz Lang|
|Produced by||Walter Wanger
|Screenplay by||Dudley Nichols|
|Based on||La Chienne
1931 novel and play
by Georges de La Fouchardière (novel)
André Mouézy-Éon (play)
|Starring||Edward G. Robinson
|Music by||Hans J. Salter
|Cinematography||Milton R. Krasner|
|Edited by||Arthur Hilton|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Scarlet Street is a 1945 American Crime film noir directed by Fritz Lang. Two criminals take advantage of a middle-age painter in order to steal his artwork. The film is based on the French novel La Chienne ("The Bitch") by Georges de La Fouchardière, that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir.
Christopher "Chris" Cross (Edward G. Robinson), a meek, amateur painter and cashier for clothing retailer, J.J. Hogarth & Company, is fêted by his employer, honoring him for twenty-five years of dull, repetitive service. Hogarth presents him with a watch and kind words, then leaves getting into a car with a beautiful young blonde. Walking home through Greenwich Village, Chris muses to an associate, "I wonder what it's like to be loved by a young girl." He helps Kitty (Joan Bennett), an amoral fast-talking femme fatale, apparently being attacked by a man, stunning the assailant with his umbrella. Chris is unaware that the attacker was Johnny (Dan Duryea), Kitty's brutish boyfriend, and sees her safely to her apartment building. Out of gratitude and bemusement, she accepts his offer for a cup of coffee at a nearby bar. From Chris's comments about art, Kitty believes him to be a wealthy painter.
Soon, Chris becomes enamored of her because he is in loveless marriage and is tormented by his shrewish wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), who idealizes her former husband, a policeman who apparently drowned while trying to save a woman. After Chris confesses that he is married, Johnny convinces Kitty to pursue a relationship in order to extort money from Chris. Kitty inveigles him to rent an apartment for her, one that can also be his art studio. To finance an apartment, Chris steals $500 ($6,500 today) in insurance bonds from his wife and later $1000 ($13,100) from his employer. Meanwhile, Johnny unsuccessfully tries selling some of Chris's paintings, attracting the interest of art critic David Janeway (Jess Barker). Kitty is maneuvered by Johnny into pretending that she painted them, charming the critic with Chris's own descriptions of his art, and Janeway promises to represent her. Adele sees her husband's paintings in the window of a commercial art gallery as the work of "Katherine March" and accuses him of copying her work. Chris confronts Kitty, who claims she sold them because she needed the money. He is so delighted that his paintings are appreciated, albeit only under Kitty's signature, that he happily lets her become the public face of his art. She becomes a huge commercial success, although Chris never receives any of the money.
Adele's supposedly dead first husband, Higgins (Charles Kemper), suddenly appears at Chris's office to extort money from him. He explains he had not drowned but had stolen money from the purse of the suicide he tried to save. Already suspected as corrupt for taking bribes from speakeasies, he had taken the opportunity to escape his crimes and his wife. Chris lets Higgins into his wife's room ostensibly so he can get the insurance money from his death but did so when she was asleep in the room, reasoning that his marriage will be invalidated when his wife sees her still-living first husband. Believing he can then marry Kitty, he goes to see her but finds out that Kitty has cheated on him. He later confronts Kitty, but still asks her to marry him; she scoffs him for being old refuses to marry him. Enraged he stabs her to death. The police visit Chris at his job, not for the murder but his earlier embezzlement. Although his boss refuses to press charges, Chris is fired. Johnny is accused, convicted, and put to death for Kitty's murder, despite his attempts to implicate Chris. At the trial, all of their deceptions work against Johnny, and Chris denies painting any of the pictures. Chris goes unpunished but Kitty is erroneously recognized as a great artist. Haunted by the murder, Chris attempts to hang himself. Although rescued, he is impoverished with no way of claiming credit for his own paintings and tormented by thoughts of Kitty and Johnny being together for eternity, loving each other.
The film made a profit of $540,575.
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times critic, gave the film a mixed review. He wrote, "But for those who are looking for drama of a firm and incisive sort, Scarlet Street is not likely to furnish a particularly rare experience. Dudley Nichols wrote the story from a French original, in which it might well have had a stinging and grisly vitality. In this presentation, however, it seems a sluggish and manufactured tale, emerging much more from sheer contrivance than from the passions of the characters involved. And the slight twist of tension which tightens around the principal character is lost in the middle of the picture when he is shelved for a dull stretch of plot. In the role of the love-blighted cashier Edward G. Robinson performs monotonously and with little illumination of an adventurous spirit seeking air. And, as the girl whom he loves, Joan Bennett is static and colorless, completely lacking the malevolence that should flash in her evil role. Only Dan Duryea as her boy friend hits a proper and credible stride, making a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tinhorn off the streets."
A review in Variety magazine included: "Fritz Lang's production and direction ably project the sordid tale of the romance between a milquetoast character and a gold-digging blonde...Edward G. Robinson is the mild cashier and amateur painter whose love for Joan Bennett leads him to embezzlement, murder and disgrace. Two stars turn in top work to keep the interest high, and Dan Duryea's portrayal of the crafty and crooked opportunist whom Bennett loves is a standout in furthering the melodrama."
More recently, critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "Scarlet Street is a bleak psychological film noir that has the same leading actors as his [Lang's] 1944 film The Woman in the Window. It sets a long-standing trend of a criminal not punished for his crime; this is the first Hollywood film where that happened...The Edward G. Robinson character is viewed as an ordinary man who is influenced by an evil couple who take advantage of his vulnerability and lead him down an amoral road where he eventually in a passionate moment loses his head and commits murder. Chris's imagination can no longer save him from his dreadful existence, and his complete downfall comes about as the talented artist loses track of reality and his dignity."
In 1995, Matthew Bernstein wrote in Cinema Journal: "The film is a dense, well-structured film noir and has been analyzed and interpreted numerous times. Some of the earliest interpretations came from censors in three different cities," adding:
On January 4, 1946, the New York State Censor Board banned Scarlet Street entirely, relying on the statute that gave it power to censor films that were "obscene, indecent, immoral, inhuman, sacrilegious" or whose exhibition "would tend to corrupt morals or incite to crime." As if in a chain reaction, one week later the Motion Picture Commission for the city of Milwaukee also banned the film as part of a new policy encouraged by police for "stricter regulation of undesirable films." On February 3 Christina Smith, the city censor of Atlanta, argued that because of "the sordid life it portrayed, the treatment of illicit love, the failure of the characters to receive orthodox punishment from the police, and because the picture would tend to weaken a respect for the law," Scarlet Street was "licentious, profane, obscure and contrary to the good order of the community." ... Universal was discouraged from challenging the constitutionality of the censors by the protests of the national religious groups that arose as the Atlanta case went to court.
- Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p443
- Scarlet Street at the Internet Movie Database.
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, February 15, 1946. Last accessed: April 11, 2008.
- Variety. Film review, 1945. Last accessed: April 11, 2008.
- Cinema: The New Pictures, Jan. 21, 1946
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- Schwartz, Dennis "An uncompromising subversive remake of Jean Renoir's La Chienne (1931)". Film review at Ozus' World Movie Reviews, February 13, 2003. Accessed: June 20, 2013.
- Bernstein, Matthew (Autumn 1995). "A Tale of Three Cities: The Banning of Scarlet Street". Cinema Journal., pp. 27-52.
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- Scarlet Street at the Internet Movie Database
- Scarlet Street at AllMovie
- Scarlet Street at the TCM Movie Database
- Scarlet Street at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Scarlet Street is available for free download at the Internet Archive