Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea. Dir: Fritz Lang.
Anguish. If I had to sum it all up with one word, it would be “anguish”. Fortunately, I don’t, so I will elaborate. Never have I felt the urge to shout “no” at a movie so much because of the decisions of the protagonist. Actually, there have only been two movies in which I have done this. The first one was in “Pretty in Pink” when the idiot girl chose Blaine over Duckie. So upset was I, in fact, that I stomped out of the theater shouting as the credits rolled. Because I was 16 or something. Anyway, Scarlet Street is one bad choice after another.
I suppose I need to vaguely state the plot before I say anymore, since everything else I have to say about
the movie depends on you knowing what I’m talking about. So here it is: verbally abused husband, faithful but under-valued employee, and amateur painter Edward G. Robinson meets Joan Bennett and boyfriend (Duryea) fighting out on the street. Robinson takes Bennett for coffee and she gets the idea that he is a celebrated painter. She talks him into doing things partially of her own will and partially of Duryea’s. Robinson becomes their meal ticket and their pawn. Anguish ensues.
This is not to say that the entire film is one long anguish fest. There are tiny triumphs throughout, and some comedic moments. I read somewhere that this movie a black comedy. Wait, what? Okay, it’s a black comedy if you have no soul and no sense of empathy. It’s freaking hilarious. Almost as funny as Sophie’s Choice.
The movie is a remake of Jean Renoir’s 1933 film, La Chienne. That’s French for “The Bitch”. I assume that the titular character here is intended to be Joan Bennett’s character “Kitty”. Upon further inspection, and with the benefit of modern parlance, I could also assert that there is more than one bitch in this movie. Robinson’s wife, who compares Robinson to her first husband (deceased) from moment to moment, is certainly a bitch- a bitch that drives Robinson to make some of the aforementioned bad choices. So that’s two characters that are bitches in the classic sense. But then we have Robinson, whom Duryea and Bennett made their bitch. And, then Duryea is made a bitch in the end. So it is possible that a more accurate title for the original film (assuming it is exactly the same plot) could have been “Les Chiennes”, or however you conjugate that. I took German in high school, not French.
Edward G. Robinson was a very gentle man in real life. Small in stature, unassuming, all that nice guy stuff. People typically assign his Little Caesar persona to him though, and are often surprised when they see him in a non-gangster role for the first time. There are several films in which you can see him play his softer side onscreen, and one in which you can see him do both (dual roles). In this one, he will make your heart ache for him. I mean, if you have a soul, of course. Clearly I am not speaking for everyone.
Scarlet Street is a Fritz Lang film. Lang had a knack for portraying the evil in the good and vice versa. His most famous and critically acclaimed talkie was M, which starred Peter Lorre as a child murderer. How anyone can take such a despicable person and make you almost sympathetic for him is beyond me, yet Lang and Lorre did just that. Of course M is in German (I needed those subtitles since my adventures with the language ended in high school), so you would need to get over that to watch it. And you should definitely watch it.
Scarlet Street is not the most tragic movie ever, I will let you know. I wanted to tell you that because when I know that a movie I want to see is going to make me feel more than I want to, I have to set it aside to watch on a day that I can handle it. It took me two years to watch Precious, but that’s beside the point. You don’t need to set aside a special day to watch this one. It has enough other emotions in it to balance out. So, if you want to see a well-balanced movie, watch this one. If you want a well-balanced breakfast, you’re on your own.