Of all of the well-known German emigres in the 1930s and 40s – Siodmak, Wilder, Preminger and Lubitsch (if you count the 20s as well) – Fritz Lang’s American period is probably the least celebrated. His film The Big Heat (1953) has some nice moments for a late-period noir, but it’s his Scarlet Street that is the most impressive.
Edward G. Robinson has a nice turn as Christopher Cross (Chris Cross), a meek accountant who falls for a femme fatale in the person of Kitty March (Joan Bennett). Dan Duryea is the wise-cracking Johnny Prince who keeps the sinister plot moving.
Edward G. really had a nicely varied career. Roles as different as the legendary gangster in Little Caeser (1931) and as Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity (1944) solidify his range alongside this one. He’s one of the few 40s tough guys that avoided being typecast early on.
There are plenty of trademarks of that “more than night” noir feel-
-but Scarlet Street strangely enough takes place mostly during the day. For a noir it’s got a whole lot of day interiors:
Even some of the night exteriors are oddly high-key:
Still, there are plenty of Lang-ian angles, like this inflected, indicting shot at a key moment of the narrative:
A few SPOILERS are below.
I feel like Lang’s style evolved in the US less than his peers’ did. Maybe that’s because he was already well established with films like M and Metropolis. Scarlet Street shows Lang clinging to that heavily stylization that Wilder would loudly eschew and others would evolve.
Wilder shot Double Indemnity the year before, and that ending was famously censored. Wilder and Raymond Chandler wanted a gas chamber scene with Walter Neff and Barton Keyes, but the Production Code disallowed it. Only a year later Lang tries something similar. Johnn Prince’s slow walk to the proverbial gallows is less detailed than Wilder wanted his to be, but still effective. Lang shoots it all in long shot, and Prince’s last desperate pleas are heard off-screen. This one got by the Breen Office:
There’s a psychological element to Scarlet Street making it one of the earlier truly psychological noirs. Though it comes a bit (too) late in the narrative, it’s still eerie, and Lang shoots some classic images to accompany it. Heavy on shadows and mood, the film has a fairly dire ending, though it’s slightly circumvented at the last moment. This scene with Chris Cross in a lone apartment is reminiscent of Peter Lorre’s Hans Beckert’s desperation at the trial scene in M.
A link to my review of the film can be found HERE.
I won’t add too much to it, aside from the opinion that Rooney Mara can really act, and Channing Tatum has some surprising range.