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SCARLET STREET, 1945
Past, Future and Latest

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SCARLET STREET, 1945  MOVIE POSTERSCARLET STREET, 1945
Movie Reviews

Directed by: Fritz Lang

Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennet, Dan Duryea, Margaret Lindsay, Rosalind Ivan
Review by Vinny Borocci


SYNOPSIS:

Chris Cross is a mousy, but trusted bank teller married to a relentless nag. His only joy is the painting he does on weekends - until he accidentally meets beautiful "Kitty". Her boyfriend Johnny convinces her to take him for everything he's got when they mistakenly believe that he is a rich and successful artist. In order to keep her in the style to which she is rapidly becoming accustomed he has to come up with ways to put his hands on ever larger amounts of money. But no matter what he does, it's not enough for Kitty and Johnny, who keep pushing until even they are in over their heads.

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REVIEW:

Among the many elements which make up film noir, in Scarlett Street, one theme we see is the likeable man who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Along with this, the conventional, ordinary lifestyle of this middle-class victim is manipulated through a seduction by a deceiving woman which leads to unrealistic thoughts and an obsession and desire driven to the point of destruction. The film expresses the representation of the need to escape through demonstrating life’s disillusion with art. By suggesting the malevolent fate which is common in film noir, the film follows three characters interacting through contradictions and injustices within American society.

From the beginning sequence we see the hypocrisy of social class as we see the businessmen honoring Chris, calling him a “good friend,” and giving him a watch. The boss leaves early, without much interaction with Chris, as he has a date with his mistress. We can see the reference toward the hypocrisy of these men when they look down at the “dame” and someone asks, “is that his wife” while another man replies, “Yeah, right.” After the men leave, we are taken from inside this bright-lit room to the dark streets where it is raining and Chris mentions how he wonders what it would be like to be loved. Through this we can see how Chris has dreams of desire. By juxtaposing the bright light in the room with the rainy, city streets, we are confronted with the idea that the interactions in the room represent an illusion, while the city streets illustrate reality and the difference between ideals and hypocrisy.

As Chris decides to take a stroll in the park before going home, we see the theme of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when he encounters Johnny beating Kitty in the middle of the street. When Chris interacts with Kitty, we can see his excitement to be talking to such a pretty woman when he stares with a full smile and stutters continuously. Since Chris never gets his dreams or what he wants, his only way of living a rational life is through his identity as a painter. Even though Chris only paints on Sundays, Kitty believes his profession is an artist, and because of his strong desire for Kitty, Chris claims he is an artist. As Chris relates his desire for Kitty through painting, we can see how his view on art leads him to illusions. He attempts to lie, steal, and change his lifestyle for something that is too unrealistic. For Kitty and Johnny, their view of art is simplistic and materialistic, without any artistic appreciation. Even when Kitty assumes control over Chris’ work, which represents another common film noir theme, people are shown interested more in the nature of the woman rather than the painting itself. The men who want to meet the artist become deeply interested when they realize that the artist is a woman and become sexually attracted to her. As such, the relationship of Chris, Kitty, and Johnny is at best distorted in terms of vision and ideals..

We witness Chris’ breakdown when he realizes he was being tricked into a scheme by Kitty and Johnny for money.. When Kitty ridicules Chris for his ugliness and stupidity, Chris kills Kitty by stabbing her; however, Johnny is the one who gets charged for the murder and executed. To signify Chris’ delirium, we see an expressionistic style where Chris is shown in an empty apartment room, appearing trapped, while lights harshly flash on and off as voices are going on in his head. Instead of taking credit for the paintings, Chris clearly wants to be punished as he wants to be tried for the murder but nobody believes he could have done it. As a result, because Chris tries to live his unrealistic dreams, it makes him delusional forcing him to live outside his dreams.

As a whole, each character represents escaping from real class problems. Since Chris is only an ordinary man, people would laugh at his paintings as opposed to the sexual attraction of a woman. For Kitty, she is only used for her looks, while Johnny is depicted as having an unrealistic view on life. As a result, we can see how injustice cause all three characters to fall apart.

This hidden piece of work proves to be special through the visually expressive themes. Moreover, the dense portrayals performed by each of the three main characters serve as an unparalleled triangle of conflict in film history. Despite the failure of national recognition, mainly in part to Double Indemnity being released one year earlier, Scarlett Street should be seriously considered as one of the first film noir to employ some of the finest and memorable themes within the genre.

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