Release Date: December 28th, 1945
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Dudley Nichols
Based on: La Chienne the 1931 novel and play by Georges de La Fouchardière (novel) and André Mouézy-Éon (play)
Music by: Hans J. Salter
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea
Walter Wanger Productions, Fritz Lang Productions, Diana Production Company, Universal Pictures, 102 Minutes
“If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.” – Kitty March
As I have been delving deep into the depths of film-noir, as of late, I had to give this film a shot. It stars three people I like, is directed by a real auteur and is pretty critically acclaimed and considered one of the best films in the film-noir style.
Edward G. Robinson plays Christopher Cross (Chris Cross… get it?), a nice and sensitive man that has been a cashier at a high profile store for twenty-five years. He is in a loveless marriage and is pretty depressed. He was once an aspiring artist but now only paints to fill his hours on Sunday afternoons.
Joan Bennett plays the femme fatale of the picture. She is in love with the criminal schemer, played by Dan Duryea. In fact, this film reunites its three stars and its director from the previous year’s film The Woman In the Window – another beloved film-noir.
Bennett’s Kitty March is seen presumably being mugged. Cross rescues her and the criminal runs off. Unbeknownst to Cross, the criminal is Kitty’s boyfriend, Duryea’s Johnny Prince. March and Prince decide to take advantage of the kind Cross. They discover his talent for painting and Prince steals some of his art, trying to sell them off. When the art community wants to know about the artist, Prince convinces Kitty to pose as the creator of the paintings. Kitty parrots all the things Cross told her about his art and she becomes a local art celebrity in Greenwich Village. All the while, Prince also has Kitty working towards seducing Cross, so they can extort him for money, due to his marriage.
Edward G. Robinson plays Cross as such a softy but it works. He is even seen in several scenes wearing a feminine apron as he prepares dinner. His wife is a shrewd and unlikable woman and Cross waits on her hand and foot while constantly being belittled and emasculated. Robinson’s Cross may be one of the saddest characters in all of film-noir.
Ultimately, Cross is pushed to the limit from all sides and something in him changes, leading to a dark side coming out. However, it is hard not relating to Cross and wanting him to snap back at those who have treated him like garbage.
Scarlet Street is a film with so many layers to it but it all works incredibly well like a perfectly prepared baklava. Plus, all the layers are important in understanding the weight that is coming down on the Cross character.
Fritz Lang told the story with perfection where many other directors would have left the picture a convoluted mess. A lot of credit has to go to the script by Dudley Nichols but it was Lang’s execution that brought everything to life, albeit with help from his talented cast.
Joan Bennett was incredibly alluring, even though you saw how treacherous she was. Duryea was an evil opportunist but still kind of likable, to where you could see how Kitty would fall for him. But the real star of the picture was Edward G. Robinson, who created such a sad and likable victim that you barely remember his work as dastardly characters from his gangster film days.
I loved Scarlet Street and I’m in agreement with the consensus of most critics. It is a stupendous film with an incredible amount of talent in front of and behind the camera.