Scarlet Street

Year 1945

Edward G. Robinson   as   Christopher Cross  
Joan Bennett as Kitty March
Dan Duryea as Johnny Prince
Rosalind Ivan as Adele Cross
Kerry Vaughn as Blonde in Car
Director - Fritz Lang
Screenwriter - Dudley Nichols

It took me a while to get through Scarlet Street. It's not because it's a bad movie. On the contrary, it's actually a pretty good movie. The tribulations of the characters are what made it hard to watch.

The main character Christopher Cross (Robinson) is a doormat. He's a cashier for a large company and his life experience is limited to what he's learned in the locked room of his office. The office has lots of windows, so he can see around his workplace. But he can't get past the barriers. (There is a lot of symbolism like that throughout the movie.) When he finally breaks free, he's out of his element and cannot cope.

The plot is fairly convoluted, which I liked. It's not really predictable, either. Scarlet Street begins with Cross being given a 25th anniversary party by his company. The owner of the company, J.J. Hogarth (Russell Hicks) leaves the gathering early to meet a woman (Vaughn) who is not his wife. The site of the glamorous blond waiting for the older man puts ideas in Cross' head.

On his own way home from the party, he meets a gold-digger named Kitty March (Bennett) but because he is so innocent he cannot see her as such. He thinks that he may have stumbled upon a relationship like Hogarth's and treats Kitty like a madonna.

Kitty lies to Cross in every scene by telling him what he needs to hear to make sure that he sticks around. Kitty's boyfriend, Johnny Prince (Duryea) controls her life, sometimes violently, and manipulates Kitty's relationship with Cross.

Cross' life at home is unpleasant. He married a domineering widow (Ivan) who takes pleasure in tormenting poor Chris. For example, Chris likes to paint. His wife Adele hates the smell and threatens to throw all of Chris' work out with the trash. Would she really do it? "Just see if I don't," she tells Chris.

Chris becomes more involved and more enamored of Kitty. When Chris' paintings are considered works of art, thanks to Johnny, and Kitty takes credit for the authorship, Chris not only goes along with it, he promotes it. The poor guy thinks he is showing Kitty love in a way that she appreciates. He is as bewitched by Kitty as Kitty is by Johnny. Of course, this arrangement cannot have a happy ending.

Since this is a film noir, there has to be a murder. I won't tell you who gets killed (Is it Kitty? Adele? Johnny? Chris?) but I have to tell you that the murderer avoids prosecution by the law. The murderer doesn't escape punishment, though. The crime of murder drives the killer insane and ends up be punished by conscience. As a newpaper reporter states, "I'd rather be punished by the law than it be left to my conscience," or similar words.

To sum up the theme of the movie, I'd have to say that all sins are punished even if the law doesn't intervene. Cross is a thief and would-be adulterer. His crimes bring him little pleasure and much anxiety. Kitty is a mercenary without a heart for Cross, but wears it on her sleeve for Johnny. She gets little reciprocation from Johnny and ends up never living her dream. Johnny is a schemer, deceiver, and bullier of women who comes to a bad end.

This is a pretty deep movie where every scene is important and carries portents for the future. All it was missing were three witches by the side of the road. But, it's flawed.

The biggest problem is that the characters are not convincing. They're all true to their roles, but they seem like cardboard. If you don't have any pathos for anyone, the final plights are not as effective as they could be.

It's tough to watch Cross be abused by his wife, Kitty, and peripherally by Johnny. But you don't care enough about the man named Christoper Cross. Likewise with Kitty and Johnny. And Chris' wife Adele? She gets what she deserves in the end, but was there ever a less likable shrew of a wife? (She keeps a life-sized picture of her ex-husband on the wall of the living room in the apartment where she lives with Chris.)

There's dark humor in the movie. When Chris professes his love for Kitty, she accepts his devotion when he can see her and rolls her eyes when she knows that he can't.

The acting is well-done throughout. Joan Bennett is exceptionally good. Prior to this movie, I knew her primarly as the mother in Father of the Bride where she played the knowledgeable, level headed, loving wife. In Scarlet Street she's a slightly addled working girl looking for a pay-day from a rich benefactor. She manages to be convincing as the ineptly manipulative kept-woman and passion's slave to Johnny while still being condescending to Chris. It really is a well played performance by Bennett. Bennett's not too young nor is she too beautiful to be convincing as the thirty-something seductress that could flim-flam Chris.

Fritz Lang's direction is mechanically superb. Great scenes and camera angles, his use of glass as an insulator among the characters can be a study in itself, make every scene a gem. But, the movie lacks heart and the pacing gets the points across at the expense of viewer immersion. There's also no score. It makes this more of a training film than a feature film.

Lots of anxiety enducing moments make this one tough to watch at times, but it's worth the investment. No profanity, nudity, or blasphemy (although there are some scenes where Kitty's "Geesh" is probably a substitute for it). It has average chick flick potential if the girl happens to like film noir. Everyone gets their comeuppance, even if the legal system doesn't provide it.

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