This week in the best of film noir, we’re taking a look at a classic film noir (well, aren’t they all classic :)) with Scarlet Street. Released in 1945 and starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, Scarlet Street was based on a French novel La Chienne (The Bitch - that says it all, right?) by Georges de La Fouchardière. It is a bleak plot with some unusual trappings of film noir.
The Best Of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
We have an unusual noir hero. Edward G. Robinson plays Christopher Cross. an ordinary, weak, lonely man pestered by a nagging wife. Cross loves to paint – it is the one thing that makes him happy. Alas, our noir hero is set up for a fall. On his way home from work, Cross sees a woman being attacked and he rushes to her aid. A torrid love affair ensues (what did you expect :)), and Cross is on a path of self-destruction. I won’t spoil the story, but Cross ends up broken in every way possible.
The Best Of Film Noir – The Femme Fatale
Joan Bennett plays Kitty March, a woman without morals who has a brutish boyfriend, Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea). Kitty is beautiful and oh so dangerous. Besides loose sexual morals, Kitty has no problems extorting money from Cross, and carrying on an affair with him despite being with Johnny. This is one wicked femme fatale. It has been said that Kitty is one of the most corrupt, amoral femme fatales in film noir.
The Best Of Film Noir – The Writing
Since I’m an author, I love to see the nuances of a film noir from a writing standpoint. One of the things I love about Scarlet Street is how the writing and direction imply a lot of nefarious things and yet it’s done in a way to get around the Production Code (this was the industry’s moral censorship guidelines from 1930 to 1968 – also known as the Hays Code). One great example is Kitty being portrayed as a prostitute and Johnny as her pimp (on the film poster): Kitty stands leaning seductively against a lamp post, with Johnny nearby. But the movie does everything to imply that Johnny is Kitty’s pimp. It is interesting to note that in the book (The Bitch) Kitty is openly a prostitute.
Another way that the writing got around the Production Code was with the ending. We have an innocent man convicted of a crime, but the true villain gets away. Only the villain doesn’t get away: he is tormented for the rest of his life by hearing the voices of his victims (this is the first example of a Hollywood film where the criminal is not punished by the law for his crime). It’s an artful, creative way of showing that the villain got what he deserved in the end. And it’s a powerful, dark ending to Scarlet Street.
The Best Of Film Noir – Trivia
Without getting into details (I don’t want to spoil the movie), we can credit Scarlet Street with being the first slasher film (watch the movie from a psychological viewpoint and you’ll see what I mean). Also, Edward G. Robinson was an amateur painter in real life. And even though the film passed the Production Code’s standards, it was still banned in three states for being immoral.
Does popcorn go with a dark, oppressive movie? It does for me so I’m headed to the TV for some film noir fun. Get your popcorn and join me.
If you enjoy film noir, read my Reed Ferguson mystery series. Reed is a wannabe private eye who loves film noir and crime fiction, and these mystery novels are consistently well-reviewed: This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, Reel Estate Rip-off, and the short story Elvis And The Sports Card Cheat. And stay tuned for a new Reed Ferguson mystery, available next month!
5 Star Review
There is little doubt that Renée Pawlish is a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre. Quite noticeable…is Pawlish’s adept development of the plot coupled with her ability to contrive clear, concise and playful prose with almost perfect pacing.
Norman Goldman, Bookpleasures Publisher and Editor (Amazon top reviewer)