Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Scarlet Street 1945

Scarlet Street 1945

Fritz Lang beautifully opens this great sad noir with an animated scene of a universal studio back lot Greenwich Village street on a rainy night. The street is glossy and rain soaked and full of people going here and there. The camera follows someone up the stairs of a brownstone into a private testimonial party for Edward G. Robinson a cashier in some kind of financial organization as he is being presented with a watch for all his loyal years of service and it appears to be a happy occasion. On the Walk back home later that night, after the party is over he comes upon Joan Bennett in a clear plastic raincoat, a tootsie wrapped in cellophane being beaten by Dan Duryea under the El and he comes to her rescue knocking Duryea out and that’s the beginning of this nightmarish story.  Robinson is in a very unhappy marriage with a shrewish but wonderful Rosalind Ivan who torments him day and night and makes fun of his beautiful paintings that he works on, in the bathroom no less on his days off from his job, and there is a sense of authority and authenticity to his paintings since they are the work of the painter John Decker. The 1940’s New York art world milieu also has a nice feel to it and is a perfect fit for the film and especially fun are the scenes of a Greenwich Village outdoor art show, with every Hollywood stereotypical art type painting away.   Robinson starts an infatuation with the duplistic and lying Joan who is entangled in an abusive s&m relationship with Duryea who calls her “lazy legs” when he’s not slapping her around. Duryea has no problem with pushing lazy legs into a relationship with Edward G. so he can set her up in a Greenwich Village abode and she can loose change him for some big bucks that she’ll hand over to Duryea the pimp. Robinson falls hard and stupid for her and is soon in his own s&m relationship with her and stealing money and hatching schemes to keep her happy in their Village hideaway ($150.00 a month) that he also uses as his studio. Duryea hatches a scheme to take Robinson’s unsigned paintings and pass them off as the work of Joan’s, and it works, Joan becomes the toast of the art world getting big 1940’s bucks for Robinson’s paintings that everyone thinks are hers.  Now we know this is not going to work out well for anyone, and it doesn’t. Lang uses all his German Expressionistic skills and background in this taunt Noir, lots of dark images and shadows, claustrophobic richly detailed rooms and interiors and beautiful nighttime street scenes dripping with regret and sorrow. Robinson who could play both meek and mean was in real life an important collector of modern art and is terrific as is the rest of the cast which Lang reunites from the previous years “The Woman In The Window”. There are a few wrong plot turns but nothing that ruins the film and it has one of the saddest endings I think I’ve ever seen in an American film. Adapted from Jean Renoir’s film La Chienne (The Bitch) with brilliant cinematography by the great Milton Krasner who also did the cinematography for “Woman In The Window.” One of the ten best films of 1945.


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