- This article is about the 1945 film. For the magazine, see Scarlet Street (magazine).
Template:Infobox Film Scarlet Street (1945), directed by Fritz Lang, is a film noir based on the French novel La Chienne (The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière, that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir.
The principal actors Edward G. Robinson, Dan Duryea, and Joan Bennett, had earlier appeared together in The Woman in the Window (1944) also directed by Fritz Lang. The three were re-teamed for Scarlet Street.
Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson), a mild banker and amateur painter is at a dinner honoring him for for twenty-five years of service in the bank for which he works. On his way home, he helps Kitty (Joan Bennett), an amoral femme fatale who is apparently being attacked by a man. Soon, he is becomes enamored of her because his own domestic life is ruled by his bullying wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), who idolizes her former husband, a policeman drowned while trying to save a woman.
From Christopher's comments about art, Kitty mistakenly believes him a wealthy painter. It turns out that the attacker was Johnny, Kitty's brutish boyfriend (the film implies as strongly as possible under the Production Code that he's her pimp), with whom she was arguing over money. Johnny convinces Kitty to pursue the sexual relationship with Cross, in order to extort money from him. Kitty inveigles Cross to rent an apartment for her, one that can also be his art studio. They take an expensive apartment formerly used by the Mexican mural painter Diego Rivera.
To finance this secret life, Cross steals from the bank. Meanwhile, Johnny tries selling some of Cross's paintings, attracting the interest of a famous art critic. Kitty pretends she painted them, charming the critic, who promises to represent her. When Cross's wife sees her husband's paintings in a commercial art gallery as the work of Katherine March, she accuses him of copying March's work. Cross grasps that he can sell his paintings under Kitty's signature, and happily lets her become the public face of his art.
Meanwhile, the dead first husband of Cross's wife suddenly reappears. He explains he had not drowned, but had stolen money from the woman he supposedly was saving. Already suspected as corrupt, he had taken the opportunity to hide. With that, Cross understands his marriage will be invalidated when he confronts his wife with her live dead first husband. Having arranged that, he believes he can then marry Kitty, only to catch her in flagrante delicto with Johnny. Shocked, he confronts Kitty, but still asks her to marry him; she taunts him in reply. Furious, he murders Kitty with an ice-pick. Johnny is accused, convicted, and put to death for Kitty's murder, despite his attempts to implicate Cross, who goes unpunished. At the trial, Cross denies he painted any of the pictures, however Cross's embezzlement is discovered and is fired from his job. Posthumously, Kitty is recognized as a great artist.
At story's end, Cross, haunted by thoughts of Kitty, attempts to hang himself. He is rescued, but becomes a poor man with no way of claiming credit for his own paintings. He is haunted by Kitty and Johnny being together for eternity, loving each other.
- Edward G. Robinson as Christopher Cross
- Joan Bennett as Kitty March
- Dan Duryea as Johnny Prince
- Margaret Lindsay as Millie Ray
- Jess Barker as David Janeway
- Rosalind Ivan as Adele Cross
- Arthur Loft as Dellarowe
- Charles Kemper as Patch-eye Higgins
- Russell Hicks as J.J. Hogarth
- Samuel S. Hinds as Charles Pringle
- Anita Sharp-Bolster as Mrs. Michaels
- Vladimir Sokoloff as Pop LeJon
- Cy Kendall as Nick
- Tom Dillon as Policeman
When the film was released, Bosley Crowther, The New York Times film critic, gave the film a mixed review, and wrote, "But for those who are looking for drama of a firm and incisive sort, Scarlet Street is not likely to furnish a particularly rare experience. Dudley Nichols wrote the story from a French original, in which it might well have had a stinging and grisly vitality. In this presentation, however, it seems a sluggish and manufactured tale, emerging much more from sheer contrivance than from the passions of the characters involved. And the slight twist of tension which tightens around the principal character is lost in the middle of the picture when he is shelved for a dull stretch of plot. In the role of the love-blighted cashier Edward G. Robinson performs monotonously and with little illumination of an adventurous spirit seeking air. And, as the girl whom he loves, Joan Bennett is static and colorless, completely lacking the malevolence that should flash in her evil role. Only Dan Duryea as her boy friend hits a proper and credible stride, making a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tinhorn off the streets."
The staff at Variety magazine gave the film a good review and wrote, "Fritz Lang's production and direction ably project the sordid tale of the romance between a milquetoast character and a gold-digging blonde...Edward G. Robinson is the mild cashier and amateur painter whose love for Joan Bennett leads him to embezzlement, murder and disgrace. Two stars turn in top work to keep the interest high, and Dan Duryea's portrayal of the crafty and crooked opportunist whom Bennett loves is a standout in furthering the melodrama."
More recently, critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "Scarlet Street is a bleak psychological film noir that has the same leading actors as his 1941 film The Woman in the Window. It sets a long-standing trend of a criminal not punished for his crime; this is the first Hollywood film where that happened...The Edward G. Robinson character is viewed as an ordinary man who is influenced by an evil couple who take advantage of his vulnerability and lead him down an amoral road where he eventually in a passionate moment loses his head and commits murder. Chris's imagination can no longer save him from his dreadful existence, and his complete downfall comes about as the talented artist loses track of reality and his dignity."
- Kitty March (to Christopher Cross): I wanted to laugh in your face ever since the moment I met you. You're old, ugly, and I'm sick of you. Sick! Sick! Sick!
Scarlet Street has been in the public domain for many years, and has been broadcast on television and published on videotape. Only inferior copies with poor picture and sound quality are available. In 2005, Kino International issued a new DVD, re-mastered from an archival print from the Library of Congress film collection.
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- Scarlet Street at DVD Beaver (includes images)
- Scarlet Street at the Internet Archive
- Scarlet Street at Film Noir of the Week
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