Saturday, July 07, 2007

Scarlet Street

I saw this 1945 film by Fritz Lang today. I saw it on dvd but it is also available on Google video (somehow its rights have fallen into public domain). You can see it here. (That's an amazing blog by the way.) It is classified as a fim-noir but it is more of a (very) dark melodrama. There are a few scenes of rain-drenched darkly lit streets but style-wise Lang plays mostly straight. That said, its pitch-black portrait of human relationships and deep pessimism all around will make sure no film-noir fans are disappointed.

Edward G. Robinson, a regular fixture in these kinds of movies, plays Christopher Cross, a lonely man married to a nagging and harrassing wife. Starved of love and affection, the only solace to him is his hobby -- painting. One night he meets Kitty, the typical femme fatale, and promptly falls in love. She is in turn involved in an abusive relationship with a sleazy con-man. Together they both plan to fleece the naive hero until the hero after being betrayed and humiliated is driven to...

Robinson is just fantastic in the role. I had only seen him in the roles of smart detectives and gangsters before but here he is amazing in the role of a victim, a diminutive, weak and pitiful figure adrift in a cruel and unjust world.

6 comments:

Puccinio said...

--------------------
It is classified as a fim-noir but it is more of a (very) dark melodrama. There are a few scenes of rain-drenched darkly lit streets but style-wise Lang plays mostly straight.
----------------------

Scenes in rain-drenched streets don't make a film a Noir. Films Noir is a mood, a style, and above all a feeling about dread and helplessness like characters in a Greek Tragedy. For the cinema, these Films Noir are in that tradition.

Films Noir as such is so hard to define as a rule that they are only understood by the exceptions like Films Noir in colour like 'Leave Her To Heaven' and 'Vertigo'.

By the way it's a great film. One of Lang's finest American films and one of his favourite.

Incidentally the film is a remake of Jean Renoir's 1931 classic 'La Chienne' so if you can see that also.

Alok said...

yes, I agree with you. I was only trying to point out that the style is quite naturalistic.

I also saw another Fritz Lang film Clash by Night recently. The story and the themes are very similar. Here the style is even documentary like.

I will have to look for that Jean Renoir film now. thanks.

puccinio said...

That's a fine film as well featuring two of Hollywood's greatest actresses - Stanwyck and Monroe for the first and only time.

Lang made so many classics in American cinema that he can legitimately on the strength of those films alone number himself as one of the finest American directors along with being one of the finest German directors - his only rival being Murnau whose 'Sunrise' made in America revolutionized cinema.

Also check out 'The Big Heat', 'Fury', 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt', 'While the City Sleeps', 'The Blue Gardenia' and also 'The Woman in the Window' the film which immediately preceded 'Scarlet Street' with the same cast.

and also check out 'Hangmen also die' the only colllaboration between Lang and his biggest inspiration - Bertolt Brecht.

---------------
Here the style is even documentary like.
--------------

Well Lang believed that every film should be a documentary in the sense that it should show each and every detail of the subject of the film and connect different levels of society. The only time, according to him, he achieved this ideal was with the film he and many others considered his best - M.

Alok said...

Oh wow, you have seen a lot of them! Of these American films I have so far seen only The Big Heat which is also quite good. Will definitely look out for others. thanks.

Yes, M and Metropolis both have documentary-like sequences specially in the crowd scenes (and in M where the police officer demonstrates the procedures he is following to catch the killer) but they are also highly non-naturalistic in their set design, lighting and camera angles. In contrast, in these american films the style is more straightforward. One reason must be that Lang had to work of much smaller budgets than what he was used to when he was with UFA. The production history of Metropolis is legendary. In contrast most of his american films were the so-called "B-movies."

Puccinio said...

xotc--------------
The production history of Metropolis is legendary. In contrast most of his american films were the so-called "B-movies."
---------------

Actually, they weren't well 'B-Films'. Barbara Stanwyck never acted in B-Movies and even if Marilyn Monroe wasn't yet the star of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' she was no B-actress.

The thing is Hollywood at that time released so many movies in a year that inevitably to divide the budget for each film, they of course divided between A-Films and B-Films. Compared to the pittance B-Films are made on, Lang practically was swimming in Gold.

The main thing is that while Lang was the big fish in Weimar Germany, when he came into Hollywood, that too much later after all the creative film people left Germany, he found that he did not have the standing that he had before. He was just one of the many talented directors of Hollywood. And the other thing is back then producers were more highly regarded than directors and as such they had to fight hard to get their creative vision across.

Lang however never struggled for finance since most of his films in America were box-office successes and he had few flops. The worst being his musical 'You and Me' made in the 30's. And the technical equipment was heaps better.

-----------
The production history of Metropolis is legendary.
-----------

Well, yeah but again 'Metropolis' was atypical of the films made in that time. It was rare for a film with such publicity and huge budget to be made. In contrast, his other German silents had smaller budgets. I personally don't think that 'Metropolis' is aged well and Lang hated the film himself. 'Course that had partly to do with the fact that it was one of Adolf H.'s favourite films.

'Faust' made a year better is a superior attempt at blockbuster film-making and was rightly so a bigger hit.

Of Lang's silents, I much prefer the first 'Dr. Mabuse' and his last silent 'Spione'. And as a silent director Murnau was in general superior to Lang. Pity he never got the chance to try sound in full.

---------------
...but they are also highly non-naturalistic in their set design, lighting and camera angles.
---------------

That's not what Lang meant when he meant documentary. He used that term to mean a fictional film that was able to reflect different levels of society, from the microcosm to the macrocosm, the working class to the middle class, the average joe and the administration. Basically documentary in scope.

In any case, Lang was always a realist and as much as people associate German Expression with Shadow and Fog Lang rarely went to Caligarian extremes. In fact in that famous landmark classic, it was Lang(then screenwriter) who suggested that the frame story at the asylum be shot without the distorted angles and sets in the dream sequence to differentiate fantasy and reality.

--------------
Oh wow, you have seen a lot of them!
--------------

It's nothing to boast about really! In fact the more films I see the more you become aware of what you haven't seen. There's always a lot to learn.

tom said...

we just watched this, based on your review - "jeepers!" that was fun >}