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4 January 2012

Scarlet Street (1945)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I suffer from a rare psychiatric disorder involving dissociative fugues. The condition often results in unplanned travel or wanderings, and can even lead to the establishment of a new identity.

Sounding familiar?

Kitty only has eyes for the moolah
Scarlet Street, 1945 Universal Pictures

I'm embarrassed to say that I had an episode over Christmas. This time the trigger was Film Noir. There wasn't a minute went by where I didn't see the world through a cynical lens, where I wasn't driven by base animal instincts. I saw crime around every corner and scuttled like a cockroach from monochrome shadow to monochrome shadow in search of my immaculate fix. It started with Sin City, but before I knew it, I needed more and I wasn't too choosy about where I got it. Waking up naked on Scarlet Street, I finally realised that I had a problem... This is my story...

Actually, this is the story of Scarlet Street.

Johnny tells it like it is
Scarlet Street, 1945 Universal Pictures

The BBC describes Scarlet Street as 'classic film noir'. It has a good pedigree; It was directed and produced by Anton 'Fritz' Lang who is credited with being one of the founders of American Film Noir. Fritz started out as an influential member of the German Expressionist movement before fleeing Germany to France in 1934. and then again to America in 1936 where he made a stack of Hollywood films. I recognise some of the titles of his films, but to be honest, the majority are a mystery to me. All have fantastically evocative names. How do you like the sound of these: 'Cloak and Dagger' (1946); 'Man Hunt' (1941); 'The Blue Gardenia' (1952); 'The Big Heat' (1953). There's so much promise! I can't wait to get my hands on some of them.

Let's talk about Scarlet Street...

Never trust a man in an apron with a knife
Scarlet Street, 1945 Universal Pictures

The central character is Chris Cross (yeah, I know!) played by Edward G Robinson. If ever there was a face for Film Noir, then it surely belonged to Edward G Robinson. Chris is a feeble corporate cashier by day and hen-pecked wanna-be painter by night. The film opens with Chris receiving a gold watch from his boss for 25 long boring years of service. Little does he realise that tonight is the night that his life will change forever.

Chris can't believe his luck
Scarlet Street, 1945 Universal Pictures

On his way home Chris comes to the aid of Kitty March (played by Joan Bennett). Poor pretty Kitty is being beaten up by her pimp Johnny Prince (played by Dan Duryea). Chris fells Johnny and falls head over heels in love for the fast-talking Kitty. It isn't long before the she-devil 'lady of the night' is putting the squeeze on  him for an apartment, jewellery and clothes. But where's Chris going to find the money to keep her happy? No good can come of this! You mark my words!

It's no secret that it's the look and feel of the Film Noir that has me hooked above all else. And on this front, Scarlet Street doesn't disappoint. I really enjoyed the camera work. The opening is especially atmospheric, with the dark rainfilled streets of New York's Greenwich Village. There is real art here and there are some beautifully iconic shots dotted throughout the entire film. I would have loved to have seen Fritz do more, but what do you know, there was a story to tell! And it's not a bad story...

Chris shares his umbrella
Scarlet Street, 1945 Universal Pictures

As you might expect, the plot is cynical, and to start with it's fairly predictable too. Fortunately Fritz knows what he's doing and he throws us a few curve-balls to spice things up. Are there too many ideas at play? Is the plot a little too complicated? Maybe. Although, to be fair, there's nothing in there that doesn't add to the story in some regard.

I'm running out of steam here... Let's round this off...

Did I enjoy my fix?

Yeah, I did. It's an old film that's very much stuck in an era, but that's why I watched it. I pretty much got what I was looking for. Can't complain.

On the Triple-B I'm going to stab you 4 times with an ice-pick and then start my terminal slip into madness. Jeepers! Johnny... oh Johnny!




5 comments:

  1. i watched this last night on Internet Archive and i have to say it WAS a good story these two were bound to get troible stirred up! but by the middle of the movie i HATED that broad. i felt like none of this wouldve happened if the poor guy wasnt unhappy to begin with.But it kept me interrested. It wouldve been a better ending without the paranoia setting in with Chris:)

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  2. Ha ha... yes, there wasn't much to like about Kitty... or her pimp. You've surprised me Christy - I thought I might have been the only person in the world who would have bothered watching this film! Even better that you got something out of it. It's an old film made in a very specific style that draws out the extremes. You're meant to love or hate the characters - that's part of the charm. I agree... The ending was a bit different. The thing that got me was that he seemed perfectly sane right up until the point that the guy on the train said that the killer might go mad... and then he went mad! The power of suggestion! Thanks for commenting Christy!

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  3. i LOVE my old black n white films. They just dnt make movies like that anymore.Try Footsteps inthe Fog;)

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  4. Thanks for the tip... looking...

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