Scarlet Street (1945) – By James L. Neibaur

Director Fritz Lang reunited the stars from his 1944 film WOMAN IN THE WINDOW for this 1945 film noir. Edward G. Robinson, often cast as a hardened tough guy, turns in an excellent performance as a quiet, conservative office worker who has settled into his tedious job and loveless marriage using a talent for painting as his release. Joan Bennett effectively plays the prostitute with whom he becomes friendly, and eventually falls in love with, succumbing to her requests for money. Dan Duryea shines as Bennett’s crooked boyfriend who is behind her manipulation of Robinson.

There are a few times in his career where Robinson plays someone who comes off as rather timid and cowardly, but is eventually revealed as capable of violence from some level of pent up frustration. THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING (John Ford, 1934), THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE (Anatole Litvak, 1938), and MR. WINKLE GOES TO WAR (Alfred E. Green, 1944), are some of the better examples other than the two Lang films. Because of his prowess as a tough guy actor, Robinson is the perfect leading player for a director like Lang. Able to exhibit mild-mannered conservatism as well as seething anger and violence, Robinson’s performance is the axis of both films. In SCARLET STREET his tentativeness and passion blend beautifully, and Robinson’s handles this delicate balance with the perfect amount of naive timidity and suppressed rage.

Joan Bennett’s catty manipulation is the force that propels the narrative, something off of which the Robinson character can play. She slinks about each scene, snapping her wisecracking dialog when with Duryea, but exhibiting playful innocence in her scenes with Robinson. Using him as a patsy, Bennett’s approach to Robinson has to balance between the character she must depict for him, and the one who admits to Duryea that she’d like the quiet, composed office clerk better if "he smacked me around once in a while."

Duryea ‘s typically solid support makes the package complete. At the time of the film’s initial release, New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther stated, "Dan Duryea hits a proper and credible stride, making a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tinhorn off the streets."

The script, based on the French novel LA CHIENNE by Georges de La Fouchardière that had previously been filmed by Jean Renoir in 1931, was adapted by Dudley Nichols whose work with John Ford andHoward Hawks crossed over several genres, including westerns, action dramas, and comedies.

SCARLET STREET has long been in the public domain, meaning that any low rent DVD company can release inferior dupes of the film at low prices. This is especially difficult for appreciating Fritz Lang’s work, as his choices of lighting and camera placement, as well as the construction of each scene, are not as effective when their legibility is challenged by grainy images. Kino-Lorber’s blu ray and DVD release is mastered from a 35mm negative preserved by the library of congress. Special Features include a commentary by Fritz Lang expert David Kalat, and a photo gallery that includes images from deleted scenes.

SCARLET STREET can be ordered from this link: