Wednesday, November 13, 2013

#Noirvember: "Scarlet Street"

I've been enjoying seeing everyone's #Noirvember posts on Twitter and Tumblr and participating myself. Last week I wrote about a Barbara Stanwyck movie Crime of Passion and this week I finally watched Scarlet Street (1946), which had been sitting in my Netflix queue unwatched forever.

Scarlet Street is a pretty tame noir. It's missing the delicious transgression of, say, a Gilda. Funny, because the censors came down really hard on the movie and it took a while to get into theatres? Why? Because it was just so darn immoral and it ends with a graphic murder (weapon of choice: an ice pick)

Even reviewers in 1946 thought the movie was actually boringly moral. One of those viewers is the always hilarious Bosley Crowther who reviewed movies for the New York Times for like 30 years. He's as grumpy as you'd expect a man named Bosley Crowther to be. He wrote, "...Scarlet Street, despite that title and all the lurid implications of the censors' ban, is a painfully moral picture and, in the light of modern candor, rather tame."

Mr. Crowther hit it right on the head. In a nutshell, Scarlet Street is the story of Christopher Cross, a mild-mannered middle-aged bank cashier who falls for the failed actress Kitty March. Kitty March is hopelessly in love with hustler and general lowlife Johnny Price. Christopher really just wants someone to love him and appreciate the paintings he does in his spare time. So he doesn't disabuse Kitty of the notion that he's a famous artist who makes $50,000 a painting. Johnny learns this and uses Kitty to get money out of Chris, which she feels bad about because she just wants to be with Johnny (they're supposedly engaged but she doesn't have a ring). Chris moves Kitty into a nice Greenwich Village studio--something even a girl today would want from her sugar daddy, just saying--and Johnny finds a way for Kitty to take the credit for his paintings. Her work becomes the toast of the town, bringing in plenty of money. And Chris allows the deception because it means his dream has come true! Sort of. But then he finds out Kitty's been cheating on him with Johnny and he kills her (there's that pesky ice pick murder the censors were worried about). But thanks to amazing circumstantial evidence, it looks like Johnny's guilty and he goes to the chair.

The nice, originally pitiable Christopher is tormented by his conscience forever more. Literally, he goes nuts hearing echoes of Kitty saying, "Jeepers, Johnny, I love you" and Johnny yelling about his innocence when he's on his way to the chair. Chris spends the rest of his days wandering New York homeless and crazy.

Kitty March is a femme fatale who's actually a victim. When we first meet her, she's in a sexy black satin dress with amazing heels and she's using her legs and feminine wiles to distract the police. You see, when Chris meets Kitty, it's because the nice, friendly coward had gotten up the courage to defend the honor of the woman who's getting slapped around on the street. That's Johnny, natch. Chris gets the police officer and Kitty bats her eyelashes so Johnny has a chance to run away.

I love these shoes. They're very high and sexy with a fun marabou puff on the front.

She goes along with Johnny's scheme to get money out of Chris and it's implied she has an insatiable sexual appetite, but she gets slapped around all the time. You feel sorry for her! You're not really supposed to feel sorry for the femme fatale but this one is just a pawn and it's sad. When Johnny encourages her to lead Chris on, Kitty says she can't do it because she loves him. It's just so sad.

For most of the movie, I think, we actually see Kitty wearing white. Costume designer Travis Banton gave her a bunch of gorgeous nightgowns and lounge outfits.
This is what she was wearing before she was stabbed to death! And her duplicity is reflected in the mirror. Genius.
I actually really liked seeing Edward G. Robinson play against type. We're so used to seeing him being tough as nails but he's just so incredibly emasculated here. His wife is a shrew that forces him to do the dishes every night, tells him how inferior he is to her deceased husband and apparently has never let him see her naked. And we kinda get the sense he's never seen Kitty naked, either. See? No sex. The man's practically a eunuch.

I understand him being moved to violence and I was frankly a little disappointed when he didn't stab his wife in this scene where he's wearing this frilly apron, a nice symbol of his completely broken masculinity.

Scarlet Street isn't my favorite noir visually, but there are some good things there. There aren't a lot of the long, dividing shadows but I do really like this shot:

But the gorgeous use of the glass doors in the apartment are really nice. Here's Chris seeing his duplicitous love in the clutches of her love for the first time. This is where she says "Jeepers, Johnny, I love you" and I rolled my eyes.

This isn't Fritz Lang's best movie, but it's not terrible. I'd say add it to your queue for a quiet night but it's no Double Indemnity.

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