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Scarlet Street

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Scarlet Street

Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett
Director: Fritz Lang
Rated: NR
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: December 1945
Genres: Action, Classic, Drama

*Also starring: Dan Duryea, Margaret Lindsay, Rosalind Ivan, Jess Barker

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

"Scarlet Street" is one of the strangest noir tales ever told on screen, primarily because it seems rooted in almost something farcical. Here is the story of a modest cashier who makes a conniving woman believe that he is a world-famous painter. This could be a comedy but under the hands of German director Fritz Lang ("Metropolis"), it takes on the existential - showing that one person's actions can result in a hopeless situation.

Edward G. Robinson plays Chris, a sullen cashier working for an anonymous bank company. His one joy in life is to paint, a habit not taken seriously by a single character in the film. One night, after hastily leaving a celebration in his honor, Chris sees a woman in the street robbed by some guy. The victim is Kitty (Joan Bennett), a purely electrifying doll, funny yet devious with a devilish smile. The thief gets away yet Chris is mesmerized by Kitty, taking her out for a drink (initially coffee, as always with a noir protagonist). He asks to meet her again, and his love for painting makes Kitty suspect he is a renown painter with lots of money to spare. Kitty thus uses Chris, and we discover the thief from earlier is actually her boyfriend, Johnny (Dan Duryea), whom she passes off as her cousin. Chris sees Johnny as an intrusion, but nevertheless, he falls hopelessly in love. He is so in love that he steals money from his bank so he can rent her a luxurious Greenwich Village apartment! Chris also sees the apartment as a studio where he can paint, away from the constant squabbling of his unhappy wife, Millie (it is more spacious than the bathroom he uses in his apartment). But Kitty has other plans - she sees Chris's paintings as an avenue for success and profit, and so does the irascible, persistent Johnny. Therein lie the twists.

"Scarlet Street" has lots of comical scenes, mostly provided by Bennett who does enough double takes and lascivious stares to make her the almost cartoonish version of Joan Crawford. All her scenes with Robinson are set in bedrooms or closed-in restaurants, and they are all perfectly flawless, exuding both humor and tension. Bennett also makes Kitty ambiguous - we are never sure what to make of her, and her sensuousness and supposed sensitivity reinforce her two-sided nature. She is out to make a buck anyway she can, but is she as amoral as Johnny, who goes so far as to sell Chris's paintings himself?

Robinson is at his most restrained and sympathetic, even when his actions become questionable, we know he will do anything for the love of his life. Counterbalancing between blindsightedness and naivete, his final act of love resulting in tragic consequences is a marvel to witness - his pained gestures show a man slowly coming apart at the seams. This is an extraordinary performance, almost as good as his similarly repressed protagonist in "Woman in the Window."

Fritz Lang, who previously directed "Woman in the Window," does wonders with the film, showing just about every single facet of noir - smoking, shadows in the night, wrongful murders, accusations, double twists, and an unseen electrocution. "Scarlet Street" is a terrific film, brimming with humor and horror in balanced doses. Most significant is Lang's inevitable ending reinforcing the hopelessness of Chris's situation. Though the ending initially had problems with the censors, it is justified and shows a degree of punishment - living with a crime is often more punishing than actual punishment from the law.

Copyright 1999 Jerry Saravia

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