Saturday, April 25, 2020

Scarlet Street (1945)

This is my very belated entry to the 2020 Literature on Film blogathon, hosted by Paul Batters of Silver Screen Classics on April 3, 4 and 5. Yes, I know, I cheated a bit. So there.

Of Human Bondage
“Every painting, if it's any good, is a love affair.” Christopher Cross
Scarlet Street was a remake of the French movie La Chienne, appropriately translated into English as The Bitch. What may have worked in France in 1931 didn’t fly in Hollywood in 1945 with Breen and his sanitation crew. Those boys liked to take bucketloads of strong disinfectant to morally suspect stories and proceedings.
So director Fritz Lang decided to take a more discreet approach, but not by much.

Scarlet Street was directed by Lang, together with its companion piece The Woman in the Window a year prior. That picture had been a big success, so Lang decided to get the band back together and give it another try. Lang always had problems fitting into the studio system that, he reasoned, stifled his creative impulses and mandated too many script changes, most notably in the aforementioned The Woman in the Window. Lang disliked the studio-imposed ending of the film which was Noir all the way through until the end when it pulled the rug out from under the audience and got a deadly case of the cutes. To circumvent studio interference he formed his own production company, Diana Productions (together with Joan Bennett and her husband Walter Wanger) to make Scarlet Street. While The Woman in the Window is constructed as a dream and presents a world of fantasy, Scarlet Street turns the nightmare into reality. The picture is a bleak masterpiece right to the closing frame, with a pitch black ending that doesn’t take the easy way out.

In the darkest - aka best - Noirs, the impossibility of hope is a central tenet. Scarlet Street is unsparingly desolate. Hope is not even an option, despair is the only constant. The movie is a study of lust, larceny, obsession, guilt, revenge and damnation without redemption. 

Lowly bank clerk, henpecked husband and amateur painter Christopher “Chris” Cross (Edward G. Robinson) - obvious metaphor is obvious - is leading a life of soul-destroying monotony. Like a prisoner serving his time, he’s worked in his dead-end job as a cashier at the same bank for 25 years. Into the bad bargain, he’s trapped in a marriage so frigid Siberian winters would feel balmy compared to it. He’s nearing a midlife crisis, and not just any old midlife crisis. The mother of all of them.

Already facing a jury
One evening - after a celebratory dinner in his honor for his servitude - on his way home he takes a detour through Greenwich Village and happens upon Kitty March (Joan Bennett) who’s being beaten up by her lover/pimp Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea). Chris comes to her aid. No good deed goes unpunished. Very quickly he falls under her spell and soon sets her up in style in a swanky apartment. Kitty though is an expensive hobby. Chris starts to lavish money on Kitty that he doesn’t have though can always procure through embezzlement, first from his wife then from his company. Chris descends deeper and deeper into a web of lies, deceit, obsession and finally murder. And we all know, once you’re caught in that whirlpool there’s no escape.

Scarlet Street is about dreams. Chris’s coworker Pringle tells him: 
“When we are young we have dreams that never pan out, but we go on dreaming.”
This quote is the entire film in a nutshell. Dreams that turn to sawdust, dreams that never had a chance, dreams that are ruined by messy human failings.

Chris is the born loser, the biggest sucker in town. He’s the perfect "nice guy" which translates in Noir into being the perfect pawn in other people's games. After 25 years at the same company, he’s still just the cashier. All he has to show for is a gold watch, and not much else. The celebratory dinner in his honor is not only the high point of his career, but the high point of his life. For once he is the center of attention. It’s just that Chris doesn’t quite realize that he’s being congratulated on a lifetime of insignificance. 

Chris is Thoreau’s man who leads a life of quiet desperation. The powers that be handed him down a life sentence of unending joylessness, never-fulfilled yearnings and crushing regrets. He married his harridan of a wife Adele because he was literally dying of loneliness. Adele has completely emasculated her husband. Still carrying a torch for her saintly first husband who supposedly died in the line of duty, she has an oversized painting of the fallen hero hanging in the living room, displacing poor Chris in his own home and showing him his place. Besides, she needs someone to do the dishes. Which Chris does, in a flowery apron! He’s not a husband, he’s a housekeeper.

Lazy Legs
There are a few semi-comic interludes in the film, which led some viewers to mistake this for a black comedy. One example is when Adele’s first husband reappears. Unbeknownst to Adele, the dearly departed never really departed. He’ll turn out to be a thief who faked his own death. Yet even the “comic relief” in this film is infused with bitter irony. Hubby was on the run - not only from the law but also from her.

Undesired his entire life, not only does Chris not have friends. He never had a lover either. “I never saw a woman naked”, must be one of the saddest confessions ever. He’s the guy who’d always lose the girl even if the competition is Larry, Curly and Moe. Chris sees his aging boss drive into the night with his young and gorgeous mistress. It hammers home the importance of money, status and power and his own impotence in such matters. Chris is ready to lose his soul for an illusion of love. 

Chris’s desire for an affair is not at all born out of simple lust, a sense of gratification, a need adventure or simply boredom, as was the case in The Woman in the Window. Prof. Wanley had a comfortable yet dull existence. Chris’s life is hell on earth. His need is born out of sheer desperation. For this simple need he will have to suffer the torment of the damned. Lang paints a terrifying picture. A horrific destiny can befall anybody regardless of good character or inherent worthiness, and in Noir the vagaries of fate always like to kick the runt of the litter.

Life is nothing but a cruel arbitrary game of Russian Roulette. There is no benevolent higher power to intervene. Fate does not show mercy and compassion to people who need it most. It would simply answer the anguished question of “why me?” with a flippant “why not you?”.

Punishing transgressions is a prominent theme in Noir. I have no problem with this, after all Justice should be blind. She is, even in Noir, but not because she’s impartial and fair-minded. It’s just that she doesn’t care and impassively looks the other way.

The allure of the see-through raincoat 
After the celebration Chris decides for the first time to stray out of his comfort zone. He decides to go home by a different route and turns a corner -  literally and figuratively - into a fantasy West Village (back then a crummy neighborhood) which has exactly the right air of decay about it. What starts as a casual nighttime stroll that should take Chris only a few blocks out of his way leads him directly into a labyrinth without exit. It’s another important theme in Noir. A single misstep, a wrong turn off the beaten path, precipitates disaster. 

The city in Noir is always a dark, dangerous and corrupt place, virtually synonymous with wickedness and promiscuity. It casts its net to draw the innocent into dark alleyways, cul-de-sacs and blind alleys. And no maps are being sold here. You’re on your own.

Scarlet Street, as so many other 40s Noirs, was shot entirely on the sound stage. This artificiality may lack authenticity, but it doesn’t matter at all. Terrence Rafferty writes in his NYTimes article Noir and the City: Dark, Dangerous, Corrupt and Sexy: “What the studio-bound Noirs sacrifice in authenticity, they make up in a heightened claustrophobia.” The characters in these films exist in a confined, closed-in world.

Foster Hirsch calls it the fabricated city in his book The Dark Side of the Screen. These studio-created cities deliberately lacked the fullness and density of the real world. As in any good Noir (indeed any good movie) there is a co-relation between environment and crucial elements of the film. Shown usually at night, the studio city is a rain-slicked netherworld, eerily deserted, full of shadows and menace, providing the perfect backdrop for stories of entrapment, loneliness and isolation. They could be straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. These cities have no connection to the real world and their maze-like sets have no visible exit, thus making the protagonist and the viewer feel boxed in. The sound stage city is a microcosmos that contains actions and emotions to a confined setting offering no escape from danger. In Scarlet Street cinematographer Milton Krasner’s Expressionistic lighting hems in the characters with walls of shadows.

Painting is the only thing that brings Chris joy. Art is his escape mechanism, his creative and emotional outlet. His childlike view of the world becomes more than evident in his two-dimensional paintings which can be filed appropriately under “naive art”. As he says, his depictions on canvas emanate from pure feeling. “No one ever taught me how to draw, so I just put a line around what I feel when I look at things”. What makes Chris’s art brilliant is the same thing that makes him a born sucker. He sees what isn’t there. 

Lang comes precariously close to belaboring the point that Chris has “a little trouble with perspective”. A painting without perspective lacks depth, and Chris lacks the depth of character to see the truth about Kitty. He’s not the only one though. No character in this movie has any insight. Kitty and Johnny certainly don’t have any, they’re just working angles. The only one who isn’t lacking perspective is the director who shows us every facet of a perverted power game.

At home Chris is forced to paint in the tiny bathroom because it’s the only place his wife allows. She doesn’t want his amateurish doodlings to clutter up the house. So he moves them to the apartment he’s renting for Kitty. Both Kitty and Johnny think Sunday painter Chris is a rich and successful artist whose paintings go for $50,000 a pop, a notion Chris never bothers to correct. It sounds better than “I’m a cashier”. They have dollar signs in their eyes and see their chance for a big payday. As if a free pad weren’t enough, Kitty starts passing his paintings off as her own. With dizzying success. She becomes a sensation.

That girl is not only gold-digging, she’s strip-mining. So unselfish and servile is Chris that he’s glad for her. Love - or lust - is a mind-altering narcotic. He agrees to keep doing the paintings and having Kitty sign them. He even compares it to them getting married but with him taking her name! By stealing his art they essentially steal his soul. 

Chris only wants one thing, that she allow him to paint her portrait. Her sarcastic answer? “Sure, and you can start right now,” as she hands him a bottle of nail polish so he can paint her toenails. “They’ll be masterpieces”.

If many Noir protagonists exist in moral limbo between good and evil, this can’t be said about Kitty and her swain Johnny. Kitty is Joan at her flooziest best. Alluring and mysterious, she wears some fabulous clothes. She may look like a classy dame, but the veneer is thin at best. Her affections are negotiable, for adequate renumeration. Everything about her is the promise of sex. Her tight-fitting dresses, her strappy sandals, the way she lounges languorously on the sofa. She slinks more than she moves. To Chris she passes herself off as a struggling and lonely actress who’s just looking for a break. Nothing is easier than taking advantage of Chris’s quixotic and completely misplaced notions of chivalry. Poor little Kitty is just soooo helpless. A damsel in distress whose plight can make the angels weep. 
“I can’t afford to pay my rent. Oh forget it. I shouldn’t have told you….I couldn’t take anything from you…no, no I couldn’t! I’ve never taken money from a man and I’m not going to now.” 
Good grief, if he buys that line, he must be out of his mind. Sob stories, no tramp can do without them.

So pure of heart is Chris that he really believes all the lies Kitty tells no matter how obviously thick she lays it on. When he first meets Kitty, he doesn’t bother to ask what a nice girl like her was doing in a dubious part of town like this, and why she would then go to have a drink with him in a grubby basement dive. There’s never been an easier mark for a con. Virtue has always been an irresistible temptation to every crook. 

Kitty doesn’t really have to do anything to get money out of Chris, just dangle the promise of sex in front of him. She doesn’t even need to deliver on that promise. It’s interesting to note that again his relationship to Kitty will remain unconsummated. His love and the affair is really just a sad, lonely man’s delusion. No sugar daddy ever got himself such a lousy quid pro quo deal. In Noir everyone is out for himself but the cruelest punishment is reserved for the trusting.

They'll be masterpieces
There is a casual cruelty about Kitty. She doesn’t for one second consider the feelings of Chris. All her thoughts are focused on her lover Johnny. Johnny for his part keeps his girl Kitty on a short leash through threats and slaps that she can’t seem to get enough of. She loves him despite the abuse. Scratch that, because of it. She just comes back for more. Love’s a battle field. She despises Chris for the single reason that he’s nice to her. 
“If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.”
Johnny holds Kitty in a sexual thrall. “I don’t know why I’m so crazy about you,” she says. He replies with a smirk “Oh, yes, you do.” 

To top it all off, Kitty is a vulgar slob, a trait she carefully hides from Chris as he sees her as a helpless innocent. She isn’t improving the dumpy digs she lives in by letting dirty dishes pile up in the sink and spitting grape seeds around the place. Classy. But wait, there’s more! Saying she’s bone-idle is an understatement. Aptly nicknamed Lazy Legs by Johnny, she’s tried modeling for a living but really, getting to work on time is just such a drag.

Kitty’s girlfriend Millie has Johnny pegged alright. He’s pimping his girl out. “He’s turned you into a tramp”, Millie says. In the opening scene Johnny slaps Kitty around and shakes her down for money.
Johnny urges Kitty to use her “charms” to milk unsuspecting cash cows and it’s clear that means more for Kitty than flashing her suitors nothing but a coy little smile.

She doesn’t have too many compunctions about earning her money on her back. She knows how to use what she’s got to get a lot more. Her reluctance is purely perfunctory and the floozy’s feint at good-girl morality doesn’t fly with Johnny:  “You’ve been kissed before”, he smirks. Kitty doesn’t demur. It’s comforting for a girl to know that she couldn’t possibly sink any lower.

As mentioned before, the femme fatale is never a working woman, well, honest work that is. Kitty may want more out of life than a filthy fifth floor walk-up, but her indolence and her allergy against hard work prevent her from getting off the couch.
She is the type who would always choose the path of the least resistance. Scamming people is as far as her ambition and her imagination stretches.

We get an interesting twist on the femme fatale here. If Kitty is a manipulative tramp she in turn gets manipulated by her boyfriend. For him she’s just a meal ticket. Kitty wields the femme fatale’s favorite weapon - in fact her only weapon - sex. But so does Johnny. For him their relationship works on the grounds of basic economics. No money, no honey, baby.

The floozy and her pimp. Two cheap chiselers, devoid of humanity. A match made in hell.

Lending further amoral support to this already nefarious tale is Duryea, Noir’s favorite slap-happy heel. This picture wouldn’t be what it is without his patented oozing-slime-from-every-pore oiliness. Regular readers of my blog, all five of them, will know that I’m a fan of Duryea. (For more about him hop over to my review of Black Angel.) There was just something fabulously untrustworthy about this scheming arch-louse. A smooth operator with an itchy backhand, Dan knocked ‘em and socked ‘em, and never has he run more true to type than here. 
Johnny is a hustler who’s always on the prowl for some dodgy deal or other. A small-time crook out for a really big score. Well, at least he has aspirations. His suits are as loud as his mouth and his cheesy line of patter would make a used car salesman proud. He’s the guy who’d tell you cheerfully he’s in import/export, would you care to ask. One look at him should tell you you can trust this guy as far as you can throw a piano.

His approach to the law is relaxed. He likes to supplement his non-existent income with blackmail and extortion. “It's only blackmail when you're dumb enough to get caught.” It’s hard to argue with that rationale. And let’s not forget his little sideline as a pimp. Never has a man worked his fingers to the bone less for his hard-chiseled money.
And exactly like his ladylove he’s too greedy and ambitious for the daily grind but too weak and lazy to put in the hours. 

If art is like a love affair for Chris, for Johnny and Kitty art means cold hard cash. Art for art’s sake vs. art as commodity. It is interesting to note how readily everybody accepts the lie that Kitty is the painter. It is a clever commentary on art and image, reality and perception, avarice and artistry; incredibly modern and timely in times of Instagram where the most worthless things are effortlessly marketed with a pretty face behind it. Sex sells. It always did. It’s just natural that the beautiful paintings were done by a beautiful woman like Kitty, not a meek and mousy Joe Schmo who is nobody’s idea of a brilliant painter. There’s no doubt to Chris, had he gone to the art gallery with his pictures under his arm, he would have received a contemptuous reception. He knows he’s a failure. With Kitty’s name on it they’re not two-dimensional doodlings, they’re avangarde masterpieces. Painter and painting are the whole package. Kitty has just enough smarts to internalize Chris’s reflections on art and parrot them to the art critics. Art and commerce make the strangest bed fellows, like trollops and pimps.

One day though Kitty finally goes too far. She spits out her contempt for Chris, that he is no man, that he wouldn’t have the guts to kill anybody. 
“How can a man be so dumb? I’ve been waiting to laugh in your face ever since I met you. You're old and ugly and I'm sick of you. sick, sick, sick!”
...she says to a man with an icepick in his hand. How many shades of stupid is that? Everybody has his breaking point. Chris stabs Kitty to death with said icepick in an unexpected eruption of brutal violence. 

We could say now we didn’t see this coming, Chris being such a meek and submissive man. But the violence was clearly foreshadowed. Chris, at home in his frilly apron, was chopping liver for dinner. His wife cruelly mocks him and he, for the first time ever, menacingly comes towards her with the knife in his hand. Discontent and violence were always lurking in the hidden recesses of his mind.

If Lang had let everybody off the hook for their crimes the year before in The Woman in the Window, this time he puts the knife in and twists it slowly. Isn’t it wonderful when Noir leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling in the end? Scarlet Street leaves no doubt that Lang had a thorough understanding of the term scorched earth policy.

The police have enough circumstantial evidence to charge Johnny with Kitty’s murder. Chris doesn’t disabuse them of their notion and Easy Street turns into rough road for Johnny. He's sent to the electric chair and Chris goes free. Many viewers were wondering how the PCA could let an ending like this pass. It’s really quite easy.
Every sin carries in itself its own burden of punishment. Lang, raised Catholic, knew this. And so did Joe Breen, also Catholic. It may not be conventional justice, but Lang gives his protagonist plenty of rope to hang himself with.

A reporter covering Johnny’s execution is the one who awakens Chris’s conscience, with a slightly bromidic homily no doubt put in to appease he-who-shall-not-be-named.
"Nobody ever gets away with murder…no-one escapes punishment…The problem just moves right in here (pointing to his heart) where it can never get out…so you go right on punishing yourself. You can’t get away with it. Never…I’d rather have the judge give me the works than do it to myself.”
Chris has to find out that hell is not a location. Hell is a state of mind. Slowly the ghosts of his victims begin to haunt him. He starts hearing the gloating voices of Kitty and Johnny, their clandestine whispers and their laughter.
”Johnny darling….I’m here baby… Come here, Lazy Legs!…Jeepers, I love you Johnny!… He brought us together, Johnny, forever…See Chris, she loves me…She’s mine, Chris, forever.”
They are still alive to Chris, there in his head, their taunts forever echoing in his mind.

Chris is condemned to wonder the streets of New York for years, like the undead, driven by unrelenting Furies, lost in lunacy. The formerly respected citizen becomes a wretched broken man, sleeping in flop houses and on park benches. He not only loses his mind, but his identity. Chris is forever damned to solitary confinement in the most confining prison cell of all, the darkness of his own mind, in a purgatory of madness and self-flagellation. It’s lonely at the bottom. 
Several times Chris tries to confess his crimes to the cops just to make the voices stop, only to be laughed at. Getting away with murder is the worst punishment of them all.

It’s a question though what is tormenting him exactly. Is it his guilt over killing his victims or is it that he can’t eradicate their voices and thus can’t eradicate their memory? Is it forgiveness for his crimes he wants or just forgetfulness? We never get an answer.

As a director Lang has occasionally been accused of being sadistic and complicit in the tragedies that he bestowed on his protagonists. Chris’s fate could certainly bear out that notion. His punishment is overkill. While it’s true that Lang didn’t flinch from showing the almost unwatchable and this film is very downbeat and depressing, it is not cynical or misanthropic.
Lang does not turn Chris into an object of ridicule, we only pity him. His degradation is never played for laughs and Lang treats him with a compassion that none of the characters allow him.

The final humiliation for Chris is seeing his portrait of Kitty being sold for $10,000 as an important artwork. “Her masterpiece” the gallery owner calls it, not knowing that the dead woman was a cheap little tramp whose interest in painting didn’t extend further than her toenails.

31 comments:

  1. So glad to see you back.Hope you're doing well. One of your best reviews here, girl! I'm glad you pointed out about Kitty and Johnny using each other. She's really not the typical in control Femme Fatale of other Noirs because she gets taken for a ride as much as she takes others for. Loveable and lonely Eddie G and slinky and bold Joan Bennett are a match made in the dark alleys of Noir. Perfect double bill with Woman In The Window. Slap-happy heel? I'm nicking that one LOL.

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    1. Hi Maddy, yes, I'm still doing fine. So far so good. Hope you're doing well too.

      I like The Woman in the Window too and actually wasn't too upset with the ending. The first time I saw it in one of those revival theaters on the big screen, half the people thought the ending was funny, the other half seemed really angry,

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  2. Re The Breen Office, treated with contempt in most places, but they existed for a reason; to circumvent state, church and other local censors, thereby without being exposed to additional legal action, the outcome of which is and was always in doubt, like any other manufacturer they were then and without harassment allowed to make and distribute their product. Don't like it? Too bad. Crack on the churches and other uptight assholes, not the studios or Breen office.

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    1. Yes, I know the PCA was self-censoring to circumvent outside censors, but the result is the same.
      The problem was that Breen had often an extremely heavy hand when it came to censoring, often sanitizing fairly innocent things.

      If the Code was a good or a bad thing in the end is really a moot point. We simply don’t get around the fact that Hollywood produced its greatest films during the Code era. The Code is what made classic Hollywood what it was. A good filmmaker could always write around the Code.

      But I'll never stop bashing Breen. :) I don't like uptight moralizing.

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  3. I like your phrase "unsparingly desolate." I am, at the same time, engrossed and repelled by Scarlet Street. Repelled only in the fact that when I think I want to watch it, I talk myself out of it. Not today. I don't think I could take it today.

    Perhaps if The Woman in the Window had not ended as it did, we wouldn't have Scarlet Street. I'm one who doesn't mind the ending of the earlier film. For me, it is an interesting idea that inside the imagination of the most upright citizen is a corrupt world of degradation. (Look at that woman in the caftan. What is she really thinking?)

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    1. Scarlet Street is very depressing and I can see it's a movie that you push off watching. I have a few movies I think are great, but I don't want to watch them again. 10 Rillington Place, In Cold Blood, The Last Hunt, Make Way for Tomorrow come to mind.

      Yes, Paddy, what are you really thinking? :)

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  4. I really enjoyed reading this. When you mentioned this film before I thought it sounded too depressing to go anywhere near, but it sounds fascinating.

    The art thing is very interesting and unexpected. But it's definitely true that we're buying into the artist as much as their art. Who wants a picture painted by some middle aged schlub? How could he be a genius?

    Oh and yeah, Chris Cross. Hah! That's really on the nose.

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    1. It is fascinating but still depressing. Definitively give it a try, but have a strong drink ready.

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  5. Compelling reading as always,I do feel that you have more than 5 regulars,with that standard of writing you should have 5,000. Yes Scarlet Street is in many ways disturbing but not unwatchable for later viewings, like some of the other films mentioned in the comments. In Cold Blood and 10 Rillington Place were based on horrifying events that actually happened that makes all the difference. With In Cold Blood,in particular I remember seeing it when first released,I simply could not leave my cinema seat for what seemed like 10 minutes the film had such an impact on me..I've never seen it since. The film I would never see again under any circumstances is Freaks which I saw in 1963 thirty years after the UK ban on the film was lifted. True Horror probably never felt more apt. Recently,I watched a late night TV showing of Peeping Tom another film I had not seen in decades, at the cinema I might add.At the time Peeping Tom was released there were a whole raft of films from Hammer,Roger Corman,William Castle and Herman Cohen,those films were fun a term that could never be levelled at Powell's film. Peeping Tom to my mind is not a film to celebrate,it's too uncomfortable for that. I like to think I'm pretty unshockable but I disturb real easy. I could watch Scarlet Street again in a heartbeat,certainly not fun but disturbing in the tradition of many great Noirs. Edward G may have been on the skids at the end of Scarlet Street but his later career progressed very nicely indeed despite the odd setback here and there. In the 1960's in generally second leads he held his own very nicely with the likes of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. I thought the later Soylent Green was a touching swan song for the veteran star. Robinson unlike many of his golden era peers was never reduced to degrading roles in very bad films. All this begs the question whatever happened to Joan Bennett? I'm sure Barry would have more detail on the Walter Wanger/Jennings Lang scandal...did it harm Bennett's career that much. By 1953 Bennett was reduced to playing in an Allied Artists cheapie Highway Dragnet,a far cry from her glory days. I don't even class Highway Dragnet as a Noir like some folks although it does have Noir elements,to be sure. In spite of it's micro budget I'm very fond of Highway Dragnet a B picture that I feel punches above it's weight.

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    1. Hi John, about unwatchable films, Freaks is certainly a tough one. So is Peeping Tom. It basically ruined Powell's career.
      Robinson still had a decent career going in the 50s.

      I've seen Highway Dragnet and must say despite the very good cast I don't think it was very good.

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  6. John K.
    Here goes. Of course this deranged Wanger harmed her career. She had just co-starred with Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride and Father's Little Dividend, a pair of successful films; she would never again co-star in another success. Now about Wanger:

    He was unusual for his time. An Ivy League graduate, relatively smooth and good looking. Had he been an actor, Walter could easily have replaced Melvyn Douglas and lost the girl in countless pictures. The worst that can be said about Joan; a normal, healthy, attractive woman who resented Wanger's harvesting her savings for Joan of Arc. So this distraught idiot shot Jennings Lang and got off with four months on a prison farm, which is the same kind of morality I object to in Canyon Passage, a Wanger production; the morality, not the execution. His participation in Cleopatra was at the level of the Bergman picture.

    So, of course it hurt Joan. She ended up on soap opera.

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  7. Thanks so much Barry,I knew you of all people would know.
    I understand that Walter Mirisch had handed Wanger a life line when he was at Allied Artists,he let him produce a few cheap Westerns among other projects. I should imagine it was Mirisch that persuaded Allied Artists to cast Bennett in Highway Dragnet. Wanger was successful at Allied Artists with Riot In Cell Block 11 and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and hit the big time again with I Want To Live. Then Wanger blew it all again with the debacle that was Cleopatra. Thanks again Barry for filling in the other details regarding Wanger's background,I must say some guys never learn especially having derailed his career previously with the mega budget flop Joan Of Arc.

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  8. Further perspective on Walter Wanger. Louis did a film called Lady In The Iron Mask, not good but not as bad as you might expect. Walter produced it while serving time. At some point daily. Hayward, Gene Frenke, and Ralph Murphy met with Walter, behind barbed wire for consultation. For me, this is like celebrating a home invasion. No matter what the victim does, turns out to be wrong. Get hurt, unacceptable. Destroy the invader, and you may either face charges, or vengeance from his cohorts. You are always wrong. The only viable option is to come down hard on all violent crime from the political and police procedural perspective. No compromise. No pity for the perpetrator.

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  9. LOVE Scarlet Street! It's one of my favourite films by Lang and EG Robinson is outstanding. In the pantheon of noir, it's probably the most desolate and truly tragic - 'getting away with murder' proves anything but and he is destroyed by the crime. Lang provides the most unique price to be paid by Chris and as you point out, we never get an answer to his fate. In essence, this makes things far worse and the thought of his wandering the streets in a state of hopelessness is too much to bear for us as an audience. Your final thoughts on the film (and the final humiliation for Chris) are so beautifully outlined - you really have a gift as a writer.

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    1. Thanks Paul. It is a tragic movie and maybe really not the movie to watch right now. Something more upbeat is in order.

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  10. This is a superb film, and your review has done it justice. It's been some years since I've seen it – like you said, it's not one to re-watch regularly – but I'm jonesing to see it again. The ending is one that's always stuck with me, the getting away with murder but not getting away with it.

    I liked what you said about the sets not exactly having street cred, but using the soundstage to give the story an atmosphere of acute claustrophobia.

    Also: Not that it matters, but I think the see-through raincoat is just too much.

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    1. Hi Ruth, opinions seem to be divided on that raincoat. :)
      I always liked it but it's certainly a dead giveaway.

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  11. Sorry to veer off topic Margot but I thought I'd just mention this, the exceptional Brit Noir The Good Die Young makes it's Blu Ray debut late July courtesy of the British Film Institute. I know there are many wonderful Noirs being released these days but this release in particular I'm very excited about especially as the DVD version was so awful. Details are scant at the moment regarding extras and knowing the BFI's previous releases they will be plentiful. What has been announced so far is that there will be an alternative version an export strength version never previously seen before. Possibly Kino Lorber will release a USA version as they have done before with other BFI releases. Normally the Kino versions do not include the extensive extras. The Good Die Young has a Noir cast to die for and was a transition piece for Lewis Gilbert moving up from B programmers to main features. Even Gilbert's B Noirs are very good and proved here was a director most capable of making something out of nothing. Gilbert's Brit Noir cycle ended with the supremely creepy Cast A Dark Shadow. The Good Die Young headlines Laurence Harvey as possibly the nastiest Homme Fatale in the history of movies-louche,totally amoral and ruthless. The scene in the gentleman's club where Robert Morley disowns his worthless son is unforgettable. Robert Morley in real life,by all accounts was in fact a Socialist...not many people know that! Which brings us on to the rumour that finally Gilbert's best known film Alfie is soon at last to make it's Blu Ray debut in all it's Techniscope glory.

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    1. I've only heard about The Good Die Young and Cast a Dark Shadow. I'd like to see both of them. Robert Morley is always good value for the money.

      As for Alfie, not a movie I ever particularly enjoyed. And I like Michael Caine.

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  12. I only mentioned Alfie because it's amazing a film as iconic as that has not yet had a Blu Ray release..typical of Paramount. I have not seen the film since it's initial release and my main attraction to see the film now would be to see all those London locations in cool Techniscope. Interestingly,Paramount seemed to like to use Techniscope for their London based films in the 60's like Up The Junction and The Strange Affair,the latter an interesting cop corruption thriller with excellent London location work,thus far The Strange Affair has not even had a DVD release. Techniscope at the time was generally used for down market fare like A.C.Lyles Westerns and low rent Spaghetti's....Leone and Eastwood changed all that perception as we now know. Margot you are in for a treat with The Good Die Young I hope that you get to see the restored Blu Ray. Check out the moment in Cast A Dark Shadow where Bogarde who preys on elderly rich widows is glimpsed in the hotel foyer reading a body building magazine,surely one of the most subversive moments in all UK cinema.

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    1. Ha, I had to look up Techniscope. Silly me.
      I'll definitively check out the other two films. Heard a lot of good things about them.

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  13. An excellent dissection of the movie, as expected. I'm a huge fan of Lang's Hollywood movies, there's so much variety and so many themes touched on. This one is all about failure really, there are no successes to be seen. In thematic terms therefore, I think this may be Lang's purest movie. He never once veers away from the central vision of human failure.
    Now I said the purest, but I don't say that it has to be his best - I'm not even sure I could choose his best and not change my mind a week or a month later. It's nice to be spoiled for choice.

    What I will say is that this is a movie I admire and respect for its purity, but it's a long way from being a favorite. It's relentless in its bleakness, the pitiless examination of all that is worthless and the ultimate conclusion that people cannot be redeemed is as sour as it gets. The one bright moment might be the suggestion that art does retain value, that it has at its core something higher to offer; even if those who create it may sink into despair and worthlessness, the art, their spiritual offering lives on on its own terms. But these are crumbs of comfort really. No, the despair, the lack of faith in dreams and the dismissal of the notion of redemption is very strong. I'm too soft-hearted to embrace that kind of nihilism. This is why I'm not troubled by The Woman in the Window (nor for that matter by Siodmak's Uncle Harry, a movie I mean to return to at some point), why I'm not one of those who rail against its ending - both films offer a moral lesson, but while the earlier movie acts as a kind of clip round the ear the later one just pounds your face without remorse.

    By the way, I was heartened too to read your defense of the use of sets. This was a genuine art in itself and I love watching movies that use these to best effect. people forget that artificiality has a purpose and is a legitimate artistic technique. It's common to hear it derided by some as cheap or lazy - Hitchcock, for example, has come in for a bit of stick for employing it. These people are, of course, wrong.

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    1. Hi Colin, I agree this movie is Bleaksville. I'm trying to think of another Noir that is quite so depressing and can't come up with one. I can understand your reaction to it. I know you like the theme of redemption and obviously this movie tells us there will never be any, for anybody.

      Long ago I had a discussion on the now defunct imdb boards with someone who didn't like the movie because it harped on one string, bleakness and despair. I can totally see that but that's what makes it the purest Noir to me. It's not my favorite either though. Not exactly a movie to watch right now, I guess.
      I like that Woman in the Window too, though the ending is a copout.

      On a different note, I'm a big fan of well-made sets. If they're well done, I think they lend an artistry all of itself to a movie. They once in Scarlet Street are very well done. It is a lost art now. As for sets/backdrops looking fake, they don't look any more fake than bad computer animation.

      As for Hitchcock, it's usually Marnie - one of my favorites - that comes under fire for that one admittedly odd backdrop in the movie. It does look weird.

      There is a book out I'd love to buy, called The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop. Unfortunately it costs $95! Well, sometime maybe.

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    2. Apparently I can't spell right today.

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    3. I think, in brief, Scarlet Street suffocates the viewer.

      That does sound like an interesting title. But that price!!!!!!!!!

      Yes, Marnie probably gets the most criticism on that score but Hitchcock did similar things in many of his movies. I feel it was a conscious decision on his part, not mere expediency. A director like that, like any of the greats, was well aware of the necessary separation between art and reality.

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    4. It's certainly a movie that divides viewers.

      About Hitch and strange backdrops, I've been telling myself the same thing, that it must have been a conscious decision on his part. A director like him wouldn't make sloppy mistakes. There must be a message trying to get out, but I'll be damned if I know what it is.

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  14. Colin, most astute comment of yours I have yet to read. Another very smart and wise level.

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  15. JR/Margot - check this out Re: The Girl In Black Stockings Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fbYxld1RXU

    PS Leone Board is down a day now don't know for how long but my email is rayottulich@rayottulich.com to stay in touch through a second channel ;-)

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