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SCARLET STREET(director: Fritz Lang; screenwriters: from the play La Chienne by Georges de la Fouchardiere/based on the book La Chienne by André Mouezy-Eon/Dudley Nichols; cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: Arthur D. Hilton; music: Hans Salter; cast: Edward G. Robinson (Christopher Cross), Joan Bennett (Kitty March), Dan Duryea (Johnny Prince), Margaret Lindsay (Millie Ray), Jess Barker (Janeway), Rosalind Ivan (Adele Cross), Arthur Loft (Dellarowe), Russell Hicks (J.J. Hogarth), Samuel S. Hinds (Charles Pringle), Charles Kemper (Patch-eye); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fritz Lang; Universal; 1945)
“An uncompromising subversive remake of Jean Renoir’s La Chienne (1931).”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An uncompromising subversive remake of Jean Renoir’s La Chienne (1931), with a particularly acute American accent. Fritz Lang’s (“Metropolis”/”Manhunt”/”M”) Scarlet Street is a bleak psychological film noir that has the same leading actors as his 1941 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. Writer Dudley Nichols adapts it from the play La Chienne by Georges de la Fouchardiere and the book La Chienne by André Mouezy-Eon. Milton Krasner’s sharply defined black-and-white photography helps set the desperate mood for the thriller.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Middle-aged Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) is honored by his boss J.J. Hogarth with a testimonial dinner and a gold watch for his 25 years of service from 1909 to 1934, where the meek man serves as a cashier. This event seems to be the highlight of the lonely man’s life. He’s unhappily married to a shrewish Brooklyn housewife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), whose first husband was a police officer who drowned in the line of duty in the East River. His only enjoyment comes from his hobby of painting on his day off, as all his youthful dreams have vanished with his dreary life. While walking in the rain to catch the subway home from the nighttime reception, the tipsy Chris comes across a thug molesting a pretty young lady and rescues her. Chris is attracted to the woman, Kitty March (Joan Bennett), not realizing that she’s a prostitute. She leads him on when her con artist pimp lover Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea)–who calls her Lazy legs and is decked out in a bowler, pinstripe suit and bow-tie–the man who molested her, pegs the old geezer for an easy mark. The tramp mistakenly thinks Chris is a successful rich artist who gets $50,000 a painting and schemes to have him set her up in a Greenwich Village luxury apartment, which he can use to paint her portrait on his day off. Foolishly the repressed ordinary man is lured into her deceptions and embezzles company funds to keep her happy. This relationship brings joy to Chris for the first time in his life. But things change for the worse when Johnny angles to get more dough out of his mark, and sells his paintings to art dealer Janeway. He passes Kitty off as the painter, and the work surprisingly attracts interest in the art world. When Chris discovers the ruse, Kitty charms him and the obsessed man falls for her lies. But soon a whirlwind of strange events takes place that alters his life forever. Adele’s husband turns up alive, and Chris is uncovered as an embezzler but the boss refuses to press charges after giving him the sack. Rushing to Kitty’s apartment to tell her that they can now get married, he finds her embracing Johnny and finally catches on that they were using him. It leads him to murder her in a rage, and Chris does nothing as Johnny gets convicted of the crime and is given the electric chair. As a result, Chris loses his marbles (he no longer has the urge to even paint) and is seen as a homeless man some five years later, who tried to confess to his crimes but no one will believe him.

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.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”