VOD film review: Scarlet Street (1945)
Ivan Radford | On 12, Nov 2019
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea
Watch Scarlet Street online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / YouTube
Criss cross. Those were the two words that sealed the fate of one dubious character in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Here, they form the very name of the protagonist in Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street – a sign that he’s destined for something very bleak indeed.
Edward G Robinson plays the middle-age cashier, who is also a painter in his own time. But that hobby becomes his own undoing, thanks to his envy and lust. After seeing his boss with a beautiful woman, he longs for his own chance to have such a partner on his arm, and ends up falling for Katherine “Kitty” March (Joan Bennett), whom he sees being attacked in Greenwich Village. The attacker? Her boyfriend, Johnny (Dan Duryea), but Chris doesn’t know that, and the pair wind up duping him for everything he has.
Their con is based on Kitty’s own misperception that he’s a successful, rich painter, and they scheme to sell his art and make money that they’ll never give him. Meanwhile, Chris steals money to keep Kitty in a fancy apartment where he can also paint.
Their joint misunderstandings, deceptions and moral depravity make for a delicious maelstrom of bad acts and even worse intentions. Joan Bennett is fabulous as the femme fatale with no interests beside herself, revealing her dark disregard for others with an irresistible cackle. Dan Duryea is equally fun as her co-conspirator, all loud suits, big smiles and hot air.
But Robinson’s the real star here, managing to invest his impotent idiot with a naivety that’s charming at first, but also can’t make him sympathetic by the time the violent ending erupts. Fritz Lang gives him the chance the shine, his expressionist use of lighting and angles centring on Chris’ descent into a visible darkness, while the script by Dudley Nicholas crackles with whip-smart dialogue that can’t distract from the keen understanding of inner human flaws. It might be an American picture made for a large studio, but Lang’s personal brush-marks are all over it, breaking free from the canvas with stabs of drama and surprising consequences.
Scarlet Street is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription. It is also in the public domain on YouTube.