Scarlet Street

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Scarlet Street
Scarlet Street p.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Walter Wanger
Fritz Lang
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
Joan Bennett
Dan Duryea
Music by Hans J. Salter
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Edited by Arthur Hilton
Walter Wanger Productions
Fritz Lang Productions
Diana Production Company
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • December 28, 1945 (1945-12-28) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,202,007[1]
Box office $2,948,386[1]

Scarlet Street is a 1945 drama film noir directed by Fritz Lang. The screenplay concerns two criminals who take advantage of a middle-age painter in order to steal his artwork. The film is based on the French novel La Chienne (literally The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière (fr), that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir.[2]

The principal actors Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea had earlier appeared together in The Woman in the Window (1944) also directed by Fritz Lang. Local authorities in three cities banned Scarlet Street early in 1946 because of its dark plot and themes.

The film is in the public domain.[3][4]


In 1934, 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 service since 1909. Company head Hogarth presents him with a watch and kind words, then leaves and gets into a car with a beautiful young blonde. Chris muses to an associate that he wonders what it is like "to be loved by a young girl."

Walking home through Greenwich Village, he helps Kitty (Joan Bennett), a young woman who is being attacked by a man, stunning the assailant with his umbrella. Chris, unaware that the attacker was Johnny (Dan Duryea), Kitty's boyfriend, walks with her to her apartment building. 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.

Chris becomes enamored with her. He is in a loveless marriage, tormented by his shrewish wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan) who idolizes her previous husband, a policeman who drowned a "hero" while trying to rescue 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 ($9,100 today) in insurance bonds from his wife and later $1000 ($18,300) from his employer.

Unknown to Chris, Johnny unsuccessfully tries selling some of Chris's paintings, leaving them with a Greenwich village street vendor believing them worth no more than $25.00. They unexpectedly attract the interest of art critic David Janeway (Jess Barker) who believes them exceptional art. 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. However, Adele sees her husband's paintings for sale in the window of a commercial art gallery as the work of "Katherine March" and accuses Chris of having copied March's 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 $2,700 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 Adele has gotten after Higgins's supposed death, but does so when she is asleep in the room, thinking that his marriage will be invalidated when his wife wakes and sees her still-living first husband.

Believing he can now marry Kitty, Chris goes to see her, but finds Johnny and Kitty embracing and now knows that she has indeed been involved with Johnny all along. He confronts Kitty, but still asks her to marry him; she scorns him for being old and, laughing in his face, 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 of Kitty's murder.

At the trial, all of the deceptions work against Johnny, despite his attempts to implicate Chris, and Chris denies painting any of the pictures. Johnny is convicted and put to death for Kitty's murder, Chris goes unpunished, and 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.



Scarlet Street

Scarlet Street reunited director Fritz Lang with actors Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who had worked with him in The Woman in the Window (1944). The film was based on the French novel La Chienne (literally The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière (fr), that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir. Lang's 1954 film Human Desire was based on another Renoir film La Bête humaine (film) (1938), which was based on Émile Zola's novel on the same name. Renoir was said to have disliked both of Lang's films.

Scarlet Street is similar to The Woman in the Window in themes, cast, crew and characters. Robinson plays a lonely middle-aged man as he did in the earlier film and Bennett and Duryea play the criminal elements again. Both films were photographed by Milton R. Krasner. Walter Wanger, who produced the film, had earlier produced Lang's 1937 film You Only Live Once.

Despite being considered a classic of film noir along with Lang's earlier film The Woman in the Window, Robinson, who noticed the thematic similarities between the two, found Scarlet Street monotonous to do and couldn't wait to finish it and move on to other projects. Robinson disliked making the former film as well.

Twelve paintings done for the film by John Decker were sent to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for exhibition in March 1946.


Box office[edit]

According to Variety, the film earned rentals of $2.5 million in the US.[5]


Joan Bennett as Kitty March

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."[6]

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."[7]

The film critic at Time gave Scarlet Street a negative review describing the plot as clichéd and with dimwitted, unethical, stock characters.[8]

More recently, critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "Scarlet Street is a bleak psychological film noir that has the same leading actors as his 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."[9]

Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson

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.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p443
  2. ^ Scarlet Street on IMDb
  3. ^ Rapold, Nicolas (14 February 2014). "Even Good Films May Go to Purgatory: Old Films Fall Into Public Domain Under Copyright Law". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 March 2018. 
  4. ^ Murray, Noel (23 November 2005). "Scarlet Street & House By The River". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 March 2018. 
  5. ^ "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, February 15, 1946. Last accessed: April 11, 2008.
  7. ^ Variety. Film review, 1945. Last accessed: April 11, 2008.
  8. ^ Cinema: The New Pictures, Jan. 21, 1946
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Bernstein, Matthew (Autumn 1995). "A Tale of Three Cities: The Banning of Scarlet Street". Cinema Journal. , pp. 27-52.

External links[edit]