Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Scarlet Street. A
Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street represents film noir at its finest, or, if it sounds better, one of the best of film noir. Bad film noir is pretty pointless, but good film noir makes for one of the best ways to spend one's time. That is why Scarlet Street is so rewarding. It provided thrills I haven't felt during a movie in a long time, or maybe ever. Something strange happened while I was watching it, maybe an actual rush of adrenaline, and I was brimming with excitement the whole way through. It's a shocking movie for its time that was banned by some states for lustful nature of the characters and the overall sinister motives they possess. It also features a murder that must have defied the production code yet still found its way into the final cut. The story is elaborate and genius in its detail even though the overall scheme sounds pretty simple. A middle-aged man falls for a young woman uses him to get money for her secret boyfriend. Mixed in are the man's wife, her husband presumed to be dead, and a plot to get the middle-aged man's paintings in an art gallery. Lang has crafted a masterpiece here, a film every bit as memorable as Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon. It contains haunting imagery that evokes a nightmare, and psychological dimensions that have the viewer constantly working out what characters know, don't know, or might know. After working with them in The Woman in the Window (another outstanding movie I'll be writing about soon), Lang brought back Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea for this film. These are classic actors for the roles they're playing: Robinson as the stolid common man broken by secret desire, Bennett as the deceiving femme fatale, and Duryea as the duplicitous villain. Scarlet Street is a remake of a Jean Renoir film from 1931. I suppose you could say that it is to that film as Rififi is to The Asphalt Jungle. It turns the good into one of the best.