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It takes a Village.
on March 18, 2003
Greenwich Village, that is, which we learn was home to "hop-heads" and "long-hairs" in 1945 (!) Fritz Lang's masterpiece tells the story of a middle-aged bank clerk (Edward G. Robinson, dependably brilliant) who escapes the dreariness of his job and his marriage to a harpy by spending his Sundays indulging his only hobby: painting. His life gets considerably more exciting when he runs across Joan Bennett, a con-artist and tramp who -- with the help of her pimp, the always-amusing Dan Duryea -- proceeds to slowly drain his financial wherewithal. Of course, the greatest irony is that Robinson has conned the con-artists: they think he's a wealthy artist because, in his attempt to impress Bennett, he neglected to mention that he's a just a lowly bank cashier. The movie shows us a dizzying amount of untruths, scams, cons, misperceptions . . . nothing is what it seems. Truth is relative, baby. While Lang has a lot of fun with all the illusions, he also dedicates himself to the principle that no good -- or bad -- deed goes unpunished, and that great noir principle, the inescapability from Fate, starts weighing more and more heavily on our characters as they perambulate through their sundry fictions and cons. -- For the sake of historical interest, it should be noted that *Scarlet Street* is an American remake of Jean Renoir's excellent *La Chienne*. (This story was based on a French novel; hence the concern with painting. Needless to say, the story migrated easily to Greenwich Village during the budding of the beatnik movement.) Renoir, in his film, spends a considerable amount of time building up the characterizations -- at the expense of the plot, to some degree. Lang, however, correctly understood that these characters are not as inherently interesting as the situation itself, with its myriad variations on the theme of Reality and (or versus) Illusion. As a result, Lang's movie is rather more suspenseful than Renoir's. Also of note: *Scarlet Street* is a follow-up of sorts to Lang's previous movie, *The Woman in the Window*, which featured the same cast (Robinson, Bennett, and Duryea)! It's a masterpiece, too. [A special word of congratulations must go to "Alpha Video": Congratulations on crafting the ugliest-looking and poorest-sounding DVD I have ever seen or heard. It's a great thing, when masterpieces in the Public Domain can be snatched up by any unscrupulous producer. Simply burn an old magnetic-tape version onto a digital disc, press a few thousand copies, and voila! -- Instant profit. Bravo!]