Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945)

Edward G. Robinson was really, really good at acting.  Two types of acting, really…over-the-top, confident, mile-a-minute talker, and shy, hunched-over, and soft-spoken.  Polar opposites, and you literally got to see both of those types of Edward G. Robinson in Ford’s “The Whole Town’s Talking” as he played two totally different but lookalike characters.  Here, he falls squarely into the latter category, as his unassuming bank cashier / wannabe painter Christopher Cross is painfully timid, completely emasculated by a loud monster of a wife, and desperate to be liked and/or loved.  Enter Joan Bennett’s Kitty March, whom Chris believes he saved from a mugging (in an outstanding scene, by the way…all outside sound is drowned out by the soft, steady drone of a train.  It’s probably the most single-minded and focused Chris has been on a particular task, and the most powerful he’s felt, in a very, very long time).  In actuality, he saved her for a moment or two from her abusive rat of a boyfriend, and the couple then decide to con the poor sap when they figure he’s a well-to-do artist.  Both sides are fooled by their misconceptions about the other based on their respective desires – Kitty and Johnny want money, Chris wants love, but it’s Chris’s fawning over Kitty that is the truly pathetic misconception at work here.  In no time, he’s asking Kitty if she would marry him if he wasn’t already married, timidly knocking on the door of her apartment he’s putting up the money for like a dog scratching at the door to come inside, and even when she woefully screws up the con and he discovers that she’s profiting off of his paintings as if they’re her own, he’s happy for her.  It reminded me of the unsuspecting dwarf Hans’s pathetic courting of the amused Cleopatra in “Freaks.”  She has this poor sap Chris twisted around her finger.  Kitty and Johnny as characters are utterly ridiculous and over-the-top, and frankly so is Chris, but there’s just something so pitiful in Edward G. Robinson’s performance that he stands out…a man so beaten down by his own insecurities, that even though we’re in on the secret he isn’t, that he’s headed towards inevitable heartbreak by being willfully ignorant enough to fawn over the deplorable Kitty, at least something is making him feel alive, pathetic as that ‘living’ may be.  It’s all pretty standard fare, as Fritz Lang doesn’t really make his presence truly felt until one of the final Telltale Heart-esque scenes, when Chris finds himself alone in a shitty hotel room, the neon sign outside the window flashing on and off, as he confronts his own sense of guilt.  Minus the imaginary voices, it’s something right out of silent expressionism, and in as memorable a way as possible, this film puts Chris right back where he started (and really, never left): alone.  All you need is love…


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