Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Streetscarlet street french poster
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Dudley Nichols from the novel and play “La Chienne” by Georges de la Fouchardiére and André Mouézy-Éon
Fritz Lang Productions/Diana Production Company
Repeat viewing/YouTube


Kitty March: If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.

No matter what The Book says, this is one of Fritz Lang’s American films that should be seen before you die.  It is delicously subversive while at the same time being 100% noir.

As the story begins, humble cashier Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson) is being feted for some employment anniversary at his firm.  His boss is theatrically grateful and gives him a gold watch.  Chris looks with longing as the boss gets into a car with a beautiful blonde. We rapidly discover that Chris is profoundly lonely.  He walks many blocks out of his way to share the company of a co-worker.  While beginning to return from this strange part of town, he witnesses a young woman being beat up by her “boyfriend”.  He manages to deck the boyfriend.  The girl sends him after a cop so that the boyfriend can flee, then sends the cop off on a wild goose chase.

The girl talks Chris into joining her for a drink and introduces herself as Kitty (Joan Bennett).  The two start lying to each other almost immediately. She tells him she is an actress and he lets her believe he is a professional painter, instead of the Sunday amateur he actually is.  He asks if he can see her again and she tells him she can write to her.

scarlet street

When Kitty and her “boyfriend”Johnny (Dan Duryea) get together, she tells him about her conversation and Johnny sees a meal ticket. (I keep putting “boyfriend” in quotes since Duryea’s is one of the all-time great characterizations of a pimp.)  A highlight of the film is the non-stop sparring between Kitty and Johnny.

In the meantime, we find out exactly why Chris is so lonely and miserable.  His wife of five years (Rosalind Ivan who seemed to specialize in shrews, see The Suspect) is an absolute harridan.  She browbeats him into doing all the chores, compares him unfavorably to her first husband, and is especially contemptuous of his paintings, which she threatens to give to the trash man.

1akfcscarletstreet3Kitty begins her money-extraction campaign with a date at an outdoor cafe during which she wangles $100.  But Johnny “needs” $1000 and soon Kitty gets herself setup in an apartment. This has the added advantage of giving Chris a place to paint in safety. Chris begins robbing the till at his company to meet his cash flow needs.

Johnny’s appetite is insatiable and he starts eyeing Chris’s paintings greedily.  After all, didn’t Kitty say that he sold his art for $50,000?  I won’t go further into the plot except to say film noir, and this is definitely one, is not big on happy endings.  With Margaret Lindsay as Kitty’s roommate and friend.

Scarlet Street, 1945 1

Every single person in this film is a phony or an out-and-out liar and Kitty and Johnny are two of the most vulgarly materialistic characters in cinema.  So as a subtext, Lang gives us a blackly comic satire of American manners mid-century.  This is also a great example of Lang’s “little man strikes back” theme as seen in such movies as Fury.  Edward G. Robinson is just perfect as a lonely, sensitive soul with blind fury carefully hidden away in the dark recesses of his heart.  Recommended.

This movie is in the public domain, which means there are a variety of ways to see it but no properly restored extra-filled DVD release.  I found that the clearest print was an HD version on YouTube.  Unfortunately, the sound was ever so slightly out of synchronization in that version.

“Trailer” – actually a montage of clips (with major spoiler)

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