Scarlet Street

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SCARLET STREET is a dark, grimy film noir which ranks alongside DOUBLE INDEMNITY as a prime cinematic example of the destructive power of desire. This picture is the first of the recently purchased Edward G Robinson box set I’ve got round to watching, I have to say, the print is verging on terrible but it’s paradoxically refreshing to see a battered, scratchy old transfer on DVD. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entirely watchable and you really get that Sunday afternoon, independent cinema double bill feel from it. Putting this picture on Blu-Ray would be like putting brown sauce on a perfectly cooked fillet steak.

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Robinson plays the part of Christopher Cross (Chris Cross to his friends) who is a middle aged, straight laced cashier in the local bank. The picture opens with a dinner in his honour to celebrate 25 years of loyal service. It’s this opening that really took me aback. Here we see the usually wooden tough Robinson in the role of an obviously timid, obedient, white collar employee. It’s really something to see, and you can! Have a look at the aforementioned scene below. Fritz Lang introduces the film wonderfully, the table full of sycophantic employees roaring at JJ’s (the boss) jokes, the pan to reveal Robinson receiving the watch, the emotional track in to the gently uncomfortable acceptance speech….. It’s just great.

Cross’s night is going well until he happens upon a chance meeting that changes his life forever. As is so often the case in film noir (and in life itself perhaps) its bad luck and a “dame” that provides the catalyst for that change. Leaving the party, the ever sweet Cross offers to walk a friend to the bus stop in the rain, on leaving his friend he sees a girl being roughed up by hoodlum and charges over to her assistance. It’s this meeting, this dame in this street that means life will never be the same for Cross.

The girl is Kitty March played by Joan Bennett, a cool, deeply calculating “broad” who’s love for the loathsome but slightly unconvincing Johnny Prince (played here by Dan Duryea) leads her to befriend the instantly besotted Cross and start bleeding him for cash. The scene below shows Cross coming to Kitty’s rescue and the establishing of their budding relationship in a local bar. It’s an incredible important scene as Cross, in an attempt to impress the girl, makes himself out to be an artist rather than a lowly bank cashier. It’s this lie that proves to be the seed of Cross’s undoing. …

Kitty, under Johnny’s vile instruction, starts giving Cross sob stories about having no money and needing a place to stay. Cross buys it but, not being the successful artist he’s made himself out to be, steals the money from the bank safe to finance his lies, and his lust.

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Cross gets his fingers in the till.

There’s a nice bit of back story in this picture that focuses on Cross and his relationship with his wife, Adele Cross (played by Rosalind Ivan) who berates and torments him at every opportunity. Cross has been truthful with Kitty in that he does practise painting but his seemingly amateurish attempts are scorned upon by his bulldog spouse relentlessly. There’s also the hilarious hugely oversized painting of Adele’s dead husband that hangs in their lounge that cross constantly finds himself measured against…. He isn’t half the man he was!

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Chris Cross and “the wife”

Cross rents and apartment for Kitty to live in that also provides him some studio space. One afternoon, Johnny steals a couple of paintings and gives them to a street vendor to sell on, thinking they’ll make a couple of bucks. In true Hollywood style, a prominent art dealer just happens to walk by and spot Cross’s work. Hailing it as genius he hunts down Johnny who passes the work off as Kitty’s…. Cross paint’s them, Kitty signs em’. Amazingly, when Cross finds out their scam he’s happy to go along with it, this is only because he’s been led to believe that Johnny and Kitty are not an item and that the possibility of him and Kitty being together is very much alive. Coming home early one night however, the truth of their relationship and their deception is revealed leading to a violent, depressing, haunting end. These are the pictures that make film noir such a great genre to watch. Hollywood wasn’t concerned about delivering happy endings and thus you end up with some of the most truthful stories ever committed to celluloid.

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Cross breaks

The film is fairly easy to pick up on DVD; I suggest owning it rather than watching the whole thing on youtube. It’s a great picture to watch when you’re looking for confirmation that the world is completely rotten.

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2 responses to “Scarlet Street

  1. I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but what a great title card. You just know you’re in for 90 minutes of downbeat grime with just that street sign.

  2. This film is no High School Musical that’s for sure.

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