A Movie A Day: SCARLET STREET!
How can a man be so dumb? I’ve been waiting to laugh in your face ever since I met you!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Man, what a twisted little movie this is. We come to SCARLET STREET from CLASH BY NIGHT via director Fritz Lang. The flick stars Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea and is actually a remake of Jean Renoir’s 1931 film LA CHIENNE.
Lang had actually made a couple of films with the three leads and I’m going to have to seek them out after seeing SCARLET STREET.
I read in yesterday’s talkback about there being a debate on whether or not SCARLET STREET classifies as noir and my vote is strongly in the “of fucking course” side.
I don’t think there’s been a stronger femme fatale in a crime movie so far in the AMAD column. Joan Bennett (known mostly for her leading role on DARK SHADOWS and as Madame Blanc in SUSPIRIA) is a Queen bitch in this flick, a master manipulator and just down right dirty birdy.
Edward G. Robinson surprisingly plays a guy beaten down by life, a timid and nervous man who wants nothing more than to be an artist. He’s a hard worker, but he doesn’t take risks. He married someone he hates (at least the feeling is mutual) out of a desire to just settle down, he ploughs away as a bank teller as he dreams of becoming a painter.
One night he stumbles across a man in a hat (I’m sure there’s a very obvious name for the hat, but every time I see it all I think of is Bert when he’s in the painting, doing the penguin dance, in MARY POPPINS) slapping a pretty blonde woman around.
Without thinking, Robinson charges him, knocking him down and out cold. He runs to get a cop despite the woman telling him not to and when he returns with the officer the man has gone. The woman, Kitty, asks to be walked home and that’s when the claws start sinking in.
She’s no good. Turns out the man beating her up is her boyfriend/pimp (pretty risky material for the era) who treats her like shit, but she loves it. He’s a cheap, crook. A dime-store hood as they’d say in the day.
Together they hatch a plan to coerce the poor mild-mannered bank teller into forking over as much money as he can get his hands on, all for the batted eyes and feigned interest of Bennett’s Kitty.
Poor Robinson falls head over heels for this chick. And you think you have it figured out… she’s going to end up falling for this kind dude, this nice man, and they’ll have to figure out a way to ditch the abusive asshole… if they’re really dark, they’ll have Bennett manipulate Robinson to do him in…
You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. This chick doesn’t give two shits for Robinson. He’s only useful as an ATM to her. When he runs dry, that’s it. She’ll move on. She won’t just leave him, she’ll destroy him first, then laugh at the crumbled ruins. Kitty is not just despicable, she’s evil. Almost more evil than Duryea’s Johnny Prince, her pimp. You get a felling with him that he can’t help but be who he is. Kitty has all the choice in the world and revels in being a horrible person.
The movie has a genuinely shocking ending. Nothing happy here and there’s a scene in a hotel room set to the blinking of the neon outside that is absolutely magnificent.
Word is the Kino DVD (linked at the top of the article) is a beautiful transfer from a 35mm negative. Being that this film is in the Public Domain (meaning no one owns the rights and anyone can press a DVD if they want… like with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which is why there are a billion versions out there) I saw a really iffy transfer on a cheapo noir 5 disc set put out by a company called Questar… looked like a 16mm dupe print, muddy and not at all sharp.
However even on the fuzzy low contrast print I could tell the cinematography was outstanding, clearly up to Fritz Lang’s standard, especially the aforementioned hotel scene.
Also of note, legendary make-up effects man Jack Pierce (DRACULA, THE MUMMY, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN, etc.) worked on this flick. I can only assume it was for some aging up of Robinson for a few sequences in the film as we have no creatures or heavily scarred scary bastards in the movie.
Ultimately, this really is a gem of a movie. It’s very much of its time, but you can tell it was pushing the limits of film. Popular trivia says that the flick was even banned in 3 states upon release, but was a huge hit nonetheless. This and GUN CRAZY are my two favorite noirs so far.
Here’s what’s coming up in the next 7 days:
Monday, June 16th: KILLER BAIT (aka TOO LATE FOR TEARS) (1949)
Tuesday, June 17th: ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964)
Wednesday, June 18th: CITY FOR CONQUEST (1940)
Thursday, June 19th: SAN QUENTIN (1937)
Friday, June 20th: 42nd STREET (1933)
Saturday, June 21st: DAMES (1934)
Sunday, June 22nd: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935)
Tomorrow we follow Dan Duryea, the abusive pimp of this film, over to another noir KILLER BAIT (aka Too Late For Tears) (1949), the last in this run of noir, although we’ll be back to the genre in a week or so, hitting some sci-fi, musicals and gangster flicks in the meantime. See you tomorrow!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
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June 15, 2008, 10:54 p.m. CST
June 15, 2008, 10:55 p.m. CST
because you gotta nuke something
June 15, 2008, 11:03 p.m. CST
it's Dan Duryea's performance in this movie that I love. I think it probably is the best noir. And I don't know how it couldn't be considered noir when you have the noirest of people in it. Cold beyond belief.
June 15, 2008, 11:12 p.m. CST
June 15, 2008, 11:13 p.m. CST
If that's the one in the poster.
June 15, 2008, 11:20 p.m. CST
Thanks for the details on this one Quint. Its odd I haven't watched this or the Mabuse series yet. I love early Lang and really don't know why I haven't sat down with his later work.
June 16, 2008, 12:35 a.m. CST
it's like being stuck in line at the worst video store in the world. Creaming over antiques no one is going to rent based on any damn review. If this Quint wants Leonard Maltin's job, keep reviewing new films. Old film geekness sucks the life out of this site.
June 16, 2008, 2:02 a.m. CST
I TA'd a film noir class a couple of years ago, and I tried desperately to get my professor to replace "Woman in the Window" with "Scarlet Street." The films are similar and share the three principle actors, but WITW just feelts cheap after Scarlet Street. Definitely give WITW a shot, especially since Fox released it on DVD about a year or two ago, but "Scarlet Street" may be Lang's best American work.
June 16, 2008, 2:04 a.m. CST
June 16, 2008, 3:54 a.m. CST
Great film. My first introduction to it was on Public Television, where I saw a deconstruction of it in some kind of video film course. Looked everywhere and ended up buying the used DVD at Amoeba for 35 damn dollars. Wish I hadn't read here that it is repro'd cheap cheap. Oh well. My disc is nice.
June 16, 2008, 6:30 a.m. CST
"Robinson Crusoe On Mars" is a hoot. Silly and preposterous, but wondrous and compulsively watchable....and the monkey really gets to you............
June 16, 2008, 8:05 a.m. CST
I thought that you would at least take weekends off after a while, but so far this column is just relentless. Well done.
June 16, 2008, 10:14 a.m. CST
Jolly hockey sticks eh old fella? Last one to the tea room's a rotten egg...
June 16, 2008, 11:16 a.m. CST
by Paul Bucciarelli
You're not an idiot. you're an asshole. Instead of appreciating the fact that these reviews might lead you to discover some great movies that are obviously off of your radar screen. Instead you come on like a punk. Now go back and watch Sin City, Seven or Pulp Fiction for the 1000th time and impress yourself with your film knowledge
June 16, 2008, 6:01 p.m. CST
still these have been very interesting. I look forward to watching them. Just awesome attitudes: I've been waiting to laugh in your face... v. cool
July 5, 2008, 10:59 p.m. CST
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