Scarlett Street Spoilers
was brilliant, I didn't think that another of Lang's American films could top The Big Heat
(Ministry of Fear
came closest prior to Scarlett Street
), especially given the constraints upon the story imposed by the Production Code; it is certainly a much, much darker film, following the downward spiral of the central character, fueled by sexual obsession and guilt (and it skips the "it's all a dream" ending of the similar Lang film The Women in the Window
). But in my opinion, that fueled Lang's creativity, as well as providing one of the few moments where the cliched double bed was appropriate for the situation, given the utterly loveless marriage between Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson) and his "wife" Adele. Kitty (Joan Bennett) is clearly a masochist and tramp, who likes to be pushed around by her boyfriend Johnnie (Dan Duryea); the suggestive scene where Kathy had Chris paint her toenails is a not so subtle allusion to their sexual relationship (I personally got the impression that Chris was in some ways sexually dysfunctional, or atleast in the grips of socially arrested development). A compendium of my favorite moments and touches:
*Chris's first glimpse of Kitty being pushed and slapped around by Johnnie. Chris hesitates for a beat before rushing up and knocking Johnnie down in a quick flurry of shots.
*Chris's domestic scenes with his wife, Adele. The emasculating relationship emphasized by not only a constantly nagging and belittling wife, but by having to wear that ridiculous apron. Lang draws our attention to a massive, and sharp, knife in several scenes; but Chris never kills his wife, even though I wanted him too.
*The two scenes where Chris steals from work. The first time, Chris puts the money back; the second time, at the behest of Kitty, he takes a $1000, but is almost caught by his boss. Very tense and effectively acted by Robinson, as the fear and guilt cross his face.
*The scene where Chris discovers that Kitty and Johnnie are having an affair (something only a love blinded idiot could miss). Chris steps into the Greenwich Village studio apartment he rents; from the shadows of the veranda he peers into the room. The record player gets stuck on the word "Love, Love, Love, Love...." until Johnnie comes out of the bedroom to fix it.
*When Chris murders Kitty in a fit of rage; you can really see the snap across Robinson's face. The murder is particularly brutal, especially for a 1940s film; Kitty attempts to shield herself with a comforter, as Chris savagely stabs her repeatedly with an ice pick.
*The trial sequence is a brilliant example of economy. Johnnie is put on trial for the murder. Lang shows the entire trial in a montage of similar shots. Each witness sits on the witness chair, in a medium shot, and delivers a piece of damning evidence. Then cut to the next witness. The camera lingers a little longer on Chris, as he frames Johnnie and denies he is the source of the paintings that are crucial to the plot of the film.
*The execution may be cliched now, but it is still effective. All in one shot, Johnnie is in his cell with the priest, he is led out by the guard, the camera tracks along with him, and stops as Johnnie goes down the hall to the Electric Chair. The door to the execution is open and Johnnie maintains his innocence. Then the door closes. The camera lingers, before cutting to a flashing neon sign, which is outside of Chris's bedroom.
*The scene of Chris's breakdown from guilt. Having left his wife and having been fired from his job, Chris lives in a sleezy tenament hotel. As the neon sign flashes on and off outside, Chris begins to hear the disembodied voices of Kitty and Johnnie teasing him, taunting him, and accusing him. Edward G. Robinson is propelled into an insane frenzy. Finally he attempts to hang himself, but is rescued at the last minute by some neighbors (couldn't kill himself, against the Production Code). I think this is one of the most expressive displays of guilt that I have seen, atleast since the ending of Mulholland Dr.
(shut up joker!)
*The final scene, five years later, Chris is now a bum who tries to turn himself in. Rustled out of the park by the police, he goes past the gallery where one of his pictures, a portrait of Kitty, has been sold for $50,000. Chris continues to walk, anonymously down the busy street. There is a dissolve. Chris is now all alone on the street.