Thursday, May 03, 2012

Scarlet Street

1945, US, directed by Fritz Lang

The other entry in Fritz Lang's diptych of films with Edward G. Robinson/Joan Bennett/Dan Duryea, Scarlet Street flips everything in The Woman in the Window on its head: where the first film is all in the mind, with the consequences purely on the level of the salutary warning, here we see the full, frightening splendour of the whims of fate at work, with devastating consequences. Both films kick off with apparently minor decisions that quickly spiral beyond the protagonists' control -- and Robinson takes everyone down with him on his brutal descent.

Loren K's take on Edward G. Robinson*
It's a re-working of the novel and play originally brought to the screen by Jean Renoir as La Chienne, a film with which it shares one central weakness, namely that the wife at the center of both films is such an unbearable shrew for her entire onscreen time that it's difficult to believe that not one but two (very different) men could have agreed to marry her. I felt myself dreading each scene in which she features -- Rosalind Ivan plays the thankless role here -- simply because the character is so completely without nuance; while Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea are hardly the most subtle of bad guys, their characters at least have some character arc, nicely adapting to the lucrative situation that so unexpectedly presents itself to them as the film evolves. Though ultimately utterly bleak, it's as morbidly compelling a film as its predecessor -- if likely to make the viewer rather queasy as you watch the irredeemable fall of a fellow creature.

* The second image is lifted from Loren's blog Woodcuttingfool, where he documents his carving projects; I'm a big fan of woodcut prints generally, and black-and-white stars seem a natural subject for the medium. His recent portrait of Lauren Bacall is one of my favourites.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States