Cashier and part-time starving artist Christopher Cross is absolutely smitten with the beautiful Kitty March. Kitty plays along, but she’s really only interested in Johnny, a two-bit crook. When Kitty and Johnny find out that art dealers are interested in Chris’s work, they con him into letting Kitty take credit for the paintings. Cross allows it because he is in love with Kitty, but his love will only let her get away with so much.
- Christopher Cross: Edward G. Robinson
- Katharine ‘Kitty’ March: Joan Bennett
- Johnny Prince: Dan Duryea
- Millie Ray: Margaret Lindsay
- David Janeway: Jess Barker
- Adele Cross: Rosalind Ivan
- Patch-eye Higgins: Charles Kemper
- Mrs. Michaels: Anita Sharp-Bolster
- Charles Pringle: Samuel S. Hinds
- Pop LeJon: Vladimir Sokoloff
- Dellarowe: Arthur Loft
- J.J. Hogarth: Russell Hicks
- Critic at Gallery (uncredited): Richard Abbott
- Barney (uncredited): Rodney Bell
- Principal Keeper (uncredited): Richard Cramer
- Detective (uncredited): Dick Curtis
- Penny – Bartender (uncredited): Tom Daly
- Policeman (uncredited): Edgar Dearing
- Joe Williams, Morning World (uncredited): Joe Devlin
- Policeman (uncredited): Tom Dillon
- Policeman (uncredited): William Hall
- Policeman (uncredited): Robert Malcolm
- Priest (uncredited): Neal Dodd
- First Policeman in Park (uncredited): Ralph Dunn
- Marchetti (uncredited): Fred Essler
- Minor Role (uncredited): Lance Fuller
- Employee (uncredited): Gus Glassmire
- Employee (uncredited): Sherry Hall
- Employee (uncredited): Milton Kibbee
- Employee (uncredited): Ralph Littlefield
- Employee (uncredited): Howard M. Mitchell
- Critic at Gallery (uncredited): Arthur Gould-Porter
- Critic at Gallery (uncredited): Boyd Irwin
- Chauffeur (uncredited): Chuck Hamilton
- Bellboy (uncredited): Herbert Heywood
- Chief of Detectives (uncredited): Thomas E. Jackson
- Detective (uncredited): Edward Keane
- Detective (uncredited): Dick Wessel
- Nick (uncredited): Cy Kendall
- Evangelist (uncredited): Fritz Leiber
- Vince Conway, Ledger (uncredited): George Lloyd
- Tiny – Bartender (uncredited): Lou Lubin
- Holliday (uncredited): George Meader
- Milkman (uncredited): Horace Murphy
- Ben – Bank Janitor (uncredited): Clarence Muse
- First Policeman in Hogarth’s Office (uncredited): Lee Phelps
- Knitting Woman in Lobby (uncredited): Rose Plumer
- Matron (uncredited): Constance Purdy
- Secretary (uncredited): Beatrice Roberts
- Derelict Saving Cross (uncredited): Dewey Robinson
- Tom Crocker, Evening Globe (uncredited): Syd Saylor
- Drunk (uncredited): Wallace Scott
- Prosecutor (uncredited): Emmett Vogan
- Policeman in Hogarth’s Office (uncredited): Matt Willis
- Watchman (uncredited): Charles C. Wilson
- Globe Loan Office Manager (uncredited): Will Wright
- Woman (uncredited): Amzie Strickland
- Hurdy-Gurdy Man (uncredited): John Barton
- Producer: Fritz Lang
- Executive Producer: Walter Wanger
- Editor: Arthur Hilton
- Costume Designer: Travis Banton
- Sound: Glenn E. Anderson
- Director of Photography: Milton Krasner
- Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen
- Set Decoration: Russell A. Gausman
- Screenplay: Dudley Nichols
- Sound Director: Bernard B. Brown
- Makeup Artist: Jack Pierce
- Hairstylist: Carmen Dirigo
- Original Music Composer: Hans J. Salter
- Visual Effects: John P. Fulton
- Novel: Georges de La Fouchardière
- Novel: André Mouézy-Éon
- Assistant Director: Melville Shyer
- Set Decoration: Carl Lawrence
- Steve: http://www.noiroftheweek.com
This week’s Noir of the Week is Scarlet Street.
Its one of my favorite films. Most of you already know the story and hopefully have seen the new release of the film on DVD from Kino International.
The film was directed by Fritz Lang and was based on the 1930’s French film, La Chienne.
Scarlet Street is about a common bank cashier in the 1930s who succumbs first to vice and then murder. I won’t give the plot away, because I’d run out of room writing all the film’s twists and turns.
What I enjoy about this film is the common man (played by Edward G. Robinson) is as selfish as Kitty and Johnny (Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea). There isn’t a good person in the whole story. Even his boss (cheating on his wife) and wife (old battle-axe) are evil to a degree. Most critics seem to think the film is a carbon copy of The Woman in the Window. I have to disagree. In that one, Robinson and Bennett are sophisticated and smart (OK, Duryea is the same). Robinson is spending the evening with the beautiful girl on a lark – just so he can brag to his friends. In Scarlet Street, Robinson plays a man who married his wife because he was dying of loneliness. In the middle of Scarlet Street, he says “I’ve never seen a naked woman!” to his wife giving us a pretty good hint that they never even consummated their relationship. Cross is a dreamer. His two dreams stated in the film was to become a painter and to have a “young girl” fall in love with him. He gets both. But his idea of love and art are selfish.
In the book Dark City: The Film Noir by Spencer Selby, Selby writes how two of the characters view art; and how their view helps define them:
“The idea of wishful dreams, around which Scarlet Street is built, becomes strongly linked with the idea of art. Cross’ standing as Johnny and Kitty’s key to riches is totally dependent upon his identity as an artist. To Johnny, great art is a “dream come true” solely because it is worth a lot of money. With Cross, the association of art, wishful dreams and glamorous love was first established in that early dialog with the friend. The link is extended and further clarified when he compares his love for Kitty to his love for art. Though more genuinely aesthetic than Johnny’s, this association is really just as selfish and subjective. For both characters, art represents a dreamlike escape from the problems and frustrations that plague mundane existence. Johnny’s dream takes a beating when he pierces the illusion of Cross’ artistic fame by selling two of his paintings. However, in doing this he has set the stage for real success and a new illusion. As the work of Kathrine March, Cross’ paintings become instantly popular and valuable. Johnny engineers this deception solely for his own profit, but thematically his action further reinforces the important link between art and illusion.”
Selby hits the nail on the head. Art for Johnny means money and for Chris romantic love. Both of these things will eventually destroy both of their lives. Watching the movie again I was taken by the three performances.
Robinson plays the sap great. He’s not as innocent as I first thought. True, he’s run through the ringer. But in the end he kills a woman and lies to send a man to the electric chair. First, I thought that he was haunted by guilt after their deaths. He’s not. He’s haunted by the fact that he was made a fool of by Kitty and Johnny. Sitting in his room alone at the end he hears Kitty and Johnny’s voices taunting him. They’re telling him that now they can be together in death all thanks to him. Robinson’s performance is more physical than verbal. When he knocks Johnny to the ground with an umbrella in a silent attack, he throws his arm in front of his face trying to block a blow that never comes. Much later, before he kills ice princess Kitty with a pick (appropriate), he walks into the room all hunched over looking much older than when he was walking on clouds in love. And how ’bout when he’s forced to do the dishes wearing a flowery apron? Classic.
Bennett in the film is the ultimate vamp. In the new print you can see her facial expression change to really tell what she’s thinking. Hint: it’s usually not what’s coming out her mouth. Sure, Chris must be blind not to see he’s being taken, but Kitty plays her role well. I love her apartment with dishes pilling up in the sink and her spitting grape seeds around the place. She’s a lazy slob with some great legs. Bennett plays the part just right. She like Johnny even though he slaps her around. In fact, that’s why she likes him. She states that if Chris wasn’t so nice to her she would like him better. Kitty will do anything for Johnny and that’s what gets her killed.
Duryea is the big bad wolf. Boy is he good in this. Never has a performer been so good at entertaining as well as delivering on a part. The first time I saw this film, about ten years ago late at night on A&E, I remember flipping through a few books trying to find out who this guy was. He plays Johnny just right. His cloths even match his attitude. Everyone knows someone kind of like him. Johnny’s always involved in schemes and trying to make it big without really trying. And blaming everyone else for his failures. Remember when Chris walks in and sees the two together in bed? What does Johnny do? He blames Kitty. In fact, every time something goes wrong, he blames her. Can you imagine anyone else pulling off the role?
Of course, the film isn’t just about the performances. Lang and his crew put together a stunning looking film. There are a number of scenes showcasing the films lighting and camera work (Milton Krasner is the Director of Photography). When Kitty is killed in the white bedroom by Chris; and Chris being haunted by voices in his seedy room come to mind. The script is filled with great dialog and quotable noir lines.
Fritz Lang may be remembered for Metropolis, but for me his gift to film lovers is Scarlet Street.
- John Chard: If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.
Christopher Cross, in middle aged, and in a life going nowhere and devoid of love and inspiration. Till one evening he rescues Kitty March from a mugger, it’s the start of a relationship that has far reaching consequences for them, and those closest to them.
The previous year director Fritz Lang had made The Woman In The Window, a film that was hugely popular with critics and fans alike. Here he reunites from that excellent film with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, the result being what can arguably be described as one of the best exponents of Film Noir’s dark sensibilities. Adapting from works by André Mouézy-Éon and Georges de La Fouchardière (novel and play), this story of desperate love and greedy deceit had already had a big screen adaptation from Jean Renoir in 1931 as La chienne, which appropriately enough translates as The Bitch! Now there’s a Noir title if ever there was one! What Lang does with this adaptation is drip his own expressionism all over it, whilst crucially he doesn’t ease off from the harsher aspects of the story. This is nasty, cruel stuff, and with Lang at the time feeling a bit abused and used by the studio system he was slave to, who better to darkly cloak a sordid story with a biting edge? Is it purely coincidence that Lang took on this film about a struggling artist who’s vision is stifled by another? Possibly not one is inclined to feel.
Edward G. Robinson is fabulous as the pathetic Chris Cross. Married to a wife who constantly heckles and belittles him (Rosalind Ivan), Robinson’s take on Cross garners empathy by the shed load, so much so that once Kitty (Bennett) and her beau, Johnny Prince (Duryea), start to scheme a scam on Chris, the audience are feeling as desperate as Cross was himself at the start of the movie. Few noir guys have so meekly fell under a femme fatale’s spell as the way Cross does for Kitty here. But such is Lang’s atmospherics, you not only sense that it’s going to go bad, you expect it to, and naturally Robinson is just the man to punch us in the guts with added impetus. Bennett and Duryea are very convincing, almost spitefully enjoying taking the hapless Robinson character for everything they can, and the visuals, especially during the bleak, shadowy last couple of reels, cap the mood perfectly.
This film is in truth probably saying more about its director than anything else that he made. And in fact it was said to be one of his all time favourites. That’s nice to find out because it finds him on particularly good, and yes, devilish form. Grim, brilliant and essential film noir. 9/10