Genre: Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.
Release Date: December 28th, 1945 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Fritz Lang Actors: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Margaret Lindsay, Rosalind Ivan, Jess Barker, Charles Kemper, Anita Bolster
t a celebratory dinner gathering, New York businessman J. J. Hogarth (Russell Hicks) applauds his good friend and longstanding cashier Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) for 25 years of faithful service. As a token of appreciation, the middle-aged employee is handed a valuable 14-carat, 17-jewel timepiece. As the boss departs, his men notice that he hops into a car with a beautiful young blonde. Cross wonders aloud what it would be like to attract the attention of such a dame, but distracts himself from such dalliances (and the overbearing nature of his wife Adele, played by Rosalind Ivan) by painting every Sunday.
After drinking too much champagne, Chris wanders around Greenwich Village late at night, and stumbles upon a woman in distress. Katherine “Kitty” March (Joan Bennett) is being manhandled by a mugger, who is promptly knocked to the ground by the usually timid cashier and his handy umbrella. Chris can’t help but notice that Kitty is exactly the kind of sultry sexpot he had earlier spoken about – and so he takes her for a quick drink. The following day, Cross is inspired to paint like never before. But Kitty wasn’t actually being accosted by a stranger; the hood was her fiancé, Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea). And he convinces her to con the unsuspecting cashier, now wrapped around her finger, into enough dough for a new apartment and the funds for a shady business deal.
Unlike Fritz Lang’s previous feature “The Woman in the Window,” which also starred Robinson, Bennett, and Duryea, “Scarlet Street” doesn’t begin with a specifically film noir setup. Bennett is, however, a superb femme fatale, seducing her target and getting manipulated in turn by her abusive, no-good beau. Without any moral compass, she’s keen to lie, exploit, toy with emotions, and flirt with blackmail. Not only does she lay it on real thick, she’s also the kind of damaged-goods girl to enjoy regular mistreatments. There’s a sleaziness to the characters that adds an extra layer of amusing complexity. Duryea is as slimy and violent as ever, and Robinson is dependably authentic and sympathetic, even though he’s easily influenced, confused, and gratingly henpecked. The three actors are in top form here.
“The man hasn’t got a chance with these New York detectives,” muses Cross as he reads a paper about a wife-killer. The story touches upon the largely disparate ideas of knocking off a wealthy spouse, art thievery and trickery, mistaken identities, and uncertain deaths, with the direction of the project continually shifting around in the most unpredictable manner. At many points, it borders on straight comedy. But in the end, the numerous, somewhat unrelated crimes must meet resolutions. And, quite hilariously, loud mouths, circumstantial evidence, misplaced fame, moralistic conundrums, and inescapable guilt (or the Production Code) ensure that everyone will get what’s coming to them.
– Mike Massie