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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!]
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Robinson is a person without collective importance ; a looser , a henpecked man . He has only a hobby: painting . In that world he gives wings to his fantasy , and those dreams become his identity signal . The unhappiness and the loneliness are his real beloved friends . Suddenly this fantasy world will open widely when his alter ego is pulled into world of crime by Joan Bennet and his manipulative boyfriend Duyrea. He falls in love with Joan very soon he'll discover a shock revelation: the first husband of his wife is still alive , so he thinks at last the happiness knocked the door of his destiny but ...
Only the fertile imagination of Fritz Lang could give this melodramatic plot a touch of genius . Once more , we should remember that Lang was one of the greatest directors in the cinema story . Since he left Germany after finnishing The testament of Dr. Mabuse ; he decided to work in United States and he'll find out in the film noir the perfect vehicle to express the dark shadows and the haunting ghosts that will appear unavoidable in the mind .
And being Lang one of the most remarkable sons of the german expressionism , to face that challenge was perfectly adequate to his skills and abilities .
If you're a hard fan of the film noir ; you find in this genre that the hell is in your mind , the guilty has no ending and nobody deserves a bit of trust . The love , under these circunstances is unable of growing up and the road for the weakness , the evilness and the cruelty are clear to shine .
In my personal selection of unforgettable Lang's films' american stage, I find several that form part of the top list : Fury , You only live once ; The Woman in the window , Big heat and Clash by night.
So don't doubt even a second about this film . It deserves an important place in your private selection.
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on May 12, 2004
This review refers to the Alpha Video (Gotham) DVD.
Overall Quality of DVD: *** /**** Sound: ** /**** Plot: ***1/2 /**** Acting: ***1/2 /**** Cinematography: ***1/2 /**** Direction: ***1/2 /****
The first time I watched this film the whole effect did not set in until a few days later and it began tugging at me in the back of my mind (as do a lot of Fritz Lang films, at least, for me). There is much more to this film than a simple "film noir" although it is noir indeed.
You start to sympathize with Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) because he is a true artist - he thinks of the world philosophically and poetically (as many artist do). To create art you must almost make yourself oblivious to the everyday machinations of the world, almost to the point of innocence, and Edward G. Robinson's character portrays the artist in this exact manner.
All he wants to do is paint but all his life he has been told what a failure he is and so he is nearly ashamed of his art and hides it from people but like any true artist he can not stop his love of art and so he hides in the bathroom like a prisoner to paint in solitude.
I love the scene where he finally shows one of his paintings of a flower that Joan Bennett gave him to an acquaintance who looks at the painting in total surprise and asks "Where did you find a flower such as this?" and Edward G. Robinson points to the flower in the glass sitting upon the bathroom sink and the acquaintance looks at him dumbfounded, points to the painting and asks "THIS? is what you see when you look at that?" - Edward G. Robinson nods and gives him a look that seems to say "You mean, you don't see it this way?" - it's a PERFECT scene expressing the inner feelings of an artist (any kind of artist).
Joan Bennett plays the scheming femme-fatale to perfection and you hate her guts. Dan Duryea also encourages Joan Bennett's character well as a two-bit thief who really needs, and deserves, to have his head kicked in.
Whoever did the actual paintings for this film did a great job as they are very surrealistic, modern-art and quite representative of Christopher Cross's psychic innerself.
If you're expecting the quality of a Criterion Collection DVD you will be disappointed, but if you have patience you will enjoy this top-notch film by a great director.
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on May 19, 2003
Poor Edward G. Robinson. That is to say, poor Christopher Cross, the character Robinson plays in SCARLET STREET (presumably no relation to the 80's pop "star" of the same name, although that would explain a lot). Chris is trapped in a loveless marriage to a woman who looks like Edith Bunker and acts like Archie. He's a middle-aged bank-cashier who has gone through life having never truly been loved nor having loved anyone himself. The one enjoyable thing he has in his life is his art, his paintings - which his totalitarian wife has banished to the bathroom, as she hates the smell of his paints. So, when this poor, downtrodden, lonely man happens upon a young and beautiful woman, it's easy to see how he could be utterly manipulated by her.
At first, I thought I was going to be bored by this film. It takes its time setting up the scenario and the various characters. But once the plot gets cooking, I was completely engrossed. I love a film that surprises me, and I simply could not guess where this story was going. As one nears the end, surprise revelations and unexpected bombshells come exploding out like fireworks. And every revelation was logical and consistent, but startling. I made several mental predictions, and after I started getting all of them wrong, I just sat back and let the film overtake me.
Fritz Lang's direction makes this a darker film than even the screenplay probably anticipated. There are several scenes that are still unsettling today. The more experimental sequences near the end are quite haunting. It's certainly not a feel-good movie; the only characters that aren't out and out despicable are merely pathetic. I won't give away the ending, but it's enough to say that there is no "...and they all lived happily ever after". People get what they deserve, and in SCARLET STREET, they deserve a hell of a lot of it.
The acting is quite good across the board, with a few notables. Edward G. Robinson is, of course, great. If that man ever gave a poor performance, then I have yet to see it. Here, he is playing against type -- an apron-wearing, totally dominated, shell of a man. He conveys a genuinely sad loneliness by his mere expressions as his confidence crumbles at every indignity and the way he desolately clings to any scrap of love he can find. You'd completely forget this was the man who played tough gangster Johnny Rocco in KEY LARGO. Dan Duryea is possibly laying it on a little thick as the sleazy, scheming boyfriend, but that sort of thing is what the role calls for. Joan Bennett rounds out the cast as Kitty March, the woman who lets Cross fall in love with her, and then takes him for as much cash as she can.
The DVD released by Alpha Video has some flaws. However, since it is the only one on the market at the moment, we're stuck with it. The picture is decent, but not what I would call great. There are a numerous scratches and the image is a little fuzzy. On one or two occasions, the movie skips a few seconds ahead. The sound quality I would describe as adequate, but muffled. A few times, I had to rewind because I couldn't hear what the actors were saying. It's not a wholly awful disc, but I wouldn't get your hopes up as to its overall quality. Perhaps a better print of this film will show up on DVD; until then, we'll have this. And this is quite a cheap disc, so it does have that advantage.
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on September 27, 2001
Powerfully harrowing and nightmarish noir about a henpecked husband who becomes the pawn of immoral, scheming lovers. Edward G. Robinson is both sympathetic and pathetic as Christopher Cross, the lovesick fool in a mid-life crisis whose only joy in life is painting since he is trapped in a horrible marriage with a hellish wife, and thus falls easy prey to a cunning and wicked young woman. Joan Bennett is electrifying as Kitty March, whose beautiful appearance and tacked-on niceness masks a thoroughly corrupt and vicious harlot. Dan Duryea is appropriately sleazy and slimy as Johnny Prince, Kitty's boy-toy hustler. The two lovers use Christopher's blind infatuation for everything they can get. Not being a rich man, to impress his prized mistress he pretends to be a wealthy artist and is forced to embezzle funds from his job in his blind desire for Kitty. As if that weren't enough, Kitty and Johnny sell Christopher's amateur paintings behind his back--which, surprisingly enough, attracts the attention and praise of noted critics and galleries--and are making a small fortune. Inevitably, Christopher discovers the cruel deception by the two--resulting in horrendous consequences for all three. A comment--the scenes of Robinson/Christopher getting henpecked by his nagging wife was meant to evoke sympathy, and indeed it does, but also manages to be unintendedly funny at times! The sight of a glum and closemouthed Robinson wearing an apron and doing dishes is not to be missed! This film was cutting edge at the time since it dealt with disturbing and important issues such guilt, damnation, repressed emotions leading to explosive acts of violence and mental breakdown, and showed the prostitute/pimp relationship in the most casual yet brutal fashion with Bennett's coldly realistic streetwalker having no illusions about life, and Duryea's pimp slapping her about and blatantly living off her body. Nevertheless, the superb performances, gloomy and tense B&W cinematography, the overwhelmingly oppressive and bleak mood which always looms large, Christopher's out-of-perspective surrealistic paintings which emphasizes the impending doom and also cleverly symbolizes his lovesick blindness, and the disturbing no-holds-barred ending make this one of the most memorable and darkest film noirs.
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on March 15, 2004
Why is it that at least 4 of Edward G. Robinson's high quality
movies have been "preserved," both in video and DVD, in horrid condition. Scarlet Street is probably the worst of the lot, but The Red House, Woman in the Window, and even The Stranger with Orson Welles are all available only in very bad condition. I would imagine there are many TV stations that own much better prints that could be used. Whether in the public domain or not, all of the above films except The Red House could be considered classics (Fritz Lang directing or original scripts and performances) and should have by now gotten a preservation treatment.
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on April 2, 2002
"Scarlete Street" is not a bad little "film noir." Robinson goes against character as the meek, mild, but larcenous anti-hero, and Dan Duryea is the classic slick wise guy who's all bad. But they're both undone by one of the worst quality DVDs on the market. This company should be prevented from ruining any more good old movies with such inferior disks. They are releasing many of the other public-domain movies, so beware, despite the low price. You get what you pay for!!!
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on April 16, 2002
Scarlet Street succeeds in spite of the extremely poor quality of the video transfer to DVD. First rate screenplay, acting and direction defer this reviewer's condemnation of the picture. I haven't seen the VHS of this film, so I don't know what the comparison is between the two. The film's quality reminds me of the VHS release of another classic, The Red House, sadly, again starring Edward G. Robinson. Not worth the low price.
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on September 7, 2002
If you love this film as I do then don't be discouraged by the reveiws critical of the quality of the print and the transfer. It is no worse then the version shown on cable and not that bad in my opinion. Until Image or Kino picks it up and does a restoration this is better then no DVD at all.
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on November 24, 2003
The 4 stars is going for the movie itself. (As usual) Fritz Lang has made another excellent film, with an almost Hitchcockian twist during the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film. I've enjoyed Fritz Lang films since Metropolis. The copy of the film I got was from a studio called Front Row Entertainment. I think I paid under $5.00 for it with tax included, so I can't sqwak about the price. However, if one of the restoration studios (Criterion, Kino, etc.) decided to give it a face lift, I would have no trouble forking down $25 - 35 for this gem. In my copy, the film is weatherworn, spotty, too dark in some places, too light in others, and just plain makes it difficult to watch in general. The sound isn't much better. Here's an official appeal to the restoration studios. Please do with this one what you did with Metropolis, and M.
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