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Scarlet Street (1945) - Blu-ray Review

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Scarlet Street - Blu-ray Review

 

4 stars

Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street is a gripping and forgotten classic of the film noir era.  Lang, being one of the several German filmmakers that helped shaped and mold and experiment with the film medium, arrived in Hollywood in the late 1930s, but most of his post-silent era output – while never suffering in quality – was largely ignored by the popular society.  His earlier films – works like M and Metropolis – are what we normally celebrate.   Kino International, with the release of Scarlet Street on blu-ray, attempts to correct that oversight.

Based on La Chienne (The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière, Scarlet Street stars Edward G. Robinson as a middle-aged man, named Christopher Cross (a play on crisscross, get it?!)  caught wishing for an affair with a beautiful young woman.  The young woman in question is the smoldering Kitty (Joan Bennet) and everything happens innocently enough.

Cross is a hen-pecked banker and part-time painter.  His wife doesn’t approve of his art and thinks he wastes his time and money on foolishness.  What she doesn’t know is that, soon enough, he will be wasting his money on Kitty and, unbeknownst to him, her real beau, Johnny (Dan Duryea).  Both Kitty and Johnny see the foolishness in Cross’s actions and attentions and use it to their financial benefit.  Together, they play Cross as the fool his wife believes him to be.  They twist and connive and wheel and deal; all for money and not for the love Cross so desperately wants.

Things get serious fast and Cross finds murder on his mind.  But who?  And why?  Adapted by Dudley Nichols, Scarlet Street retains the smoking scenery and haunting locales that are film noir staples and presents its three lead characters with plenty of opportunities to turn in commanding  era-based performances and, as a result of a taught script, they all three deliver.   It’s a nice slice of film noir pie from 1945.

The bitch is conniving and convincing.  The puppet master is masterfully deceitful and Cross is the sucker who gets punched and punched again.  Robinson is both manipulated and mournful as Cross.  You can’t help but feel for him as the audience, at the beginning of the movie, could barely believe that his top-notched character would ever be sunken so low and so quickly by a lousy dame.  Such is the film noir territory; the femme fatale.

Lang directs this with the steely skill that marks most of his works.  Scarlet Street is dark and brooding and mindful of its choice edits and tight pacing and, of course, the use of shadows and light.  There’s a healthy balance of mood and mayhem that documents and etches itself into the throes of the narrative and, rather seamlessly, the elements blend straight into the fabric of the genre.

Scarlet Street is a forgotten example of just how powerful the film noir genre can be.

Film Details

Scarlet Street - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: This film has not been rated by the MPAA.
Director
: Fritz Lang
Writer
: Dudley Nichols
Cast: Edward G. Robinson; Joan Bennett; Margaret Lindsay; Dan Duryea
Genre: Classic | Noir | Drama
Tagline:
The GREAT STARS and DIRECTOR of "Woman in the Window"
Memorable Movie Quote: "If he were mean or vicious or if he'd bawl me out or something, I'd like him better."
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Home Video Distributor:
Kino International
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 28, 1945
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 28, 2012

Synopsis: A box-office hit in its day (despite being banned in three states), Scarlet Street is perhaps legendary director Fritz Lang's (Metropolis) finest American film. Kino's immaculate 1080P transfer, from a 35mm Library of Congress vault negative, restores Lang's extravagantly fatalistic vision to its original B&W glory. When middle-aged milquetoast Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson -- Double Indemnity, Little Caesar) rescues street-walking bad girl Kitty (Joan Bennett -- The Reckless Moment) from the rain slicked gutters of an eerily artificial backlot Greenwich Village, he plunges headlong into a whirlpool of lust, larceny and revenge. As Chris' obsession with the irresistibly vulgar Kitty grows, the meek cashier is seduced, corrupted, humiliated and transformed into an avenging monster before implacable fate and perverse justice triumph in the most satisfyingly downbeat denouement in the history of American film. Both Scarlet Street producer Walter Wanger's wife and director Lang's mistress, Joan Bennett created a femme fatale icon as the unapologetically erotic and ruthless Kitty. Robinson breathes subtle, fragile humanity into Chris Cross while film noir super-heavy Dan Duryea, as Kitty's pimp boyfriend Johnny, skillfully molds ''a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tin horn.'' (The New York Times). Packed with hairpin plot twists from screenwriter Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach) and ''bristling with fine directorial touches and expert acting'' (Time), Scarlet Street is a dark gem of film noir and golden age Hollywood filmmaking at its finest.

Blu-ray Review

Scarlet Street - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie
 
Blu-ray Disc
4 stars
 
3 Stars
     
Blu-ray Experience
3.5 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - February 28, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: LPCM Mono
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

The print is courtesy of the Library of Congress. The 1080p transfer is courtesy of Kino International. The print in itself isn’t the best example of how strong black-and-white films can look in HD…especially the classics. There are pervasive scratches that run through one side of the print on and off again during the presentation. Obviously, this wasn’t stored in the best of conditions in its “once upon a time ago” history. Thankfully, Kino has restored some part of it for a digital presentation. The black levels are strong and heavy and, at times, do darken the whites a bit too much for a healthy contrast. Damage to the print does remain, but some things just can’t be covered up. With heavy orchestration from HJ Salter, the sound is presented in a mono HD track that uses the front speakers only.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Film expert David Kalat provides the film’s commentary track.  It’s informative and loaded with trivia bits and nuggets, but dry as a bone and a bit too rehearsed.  It runs the length of the film and provides location information, but is solely for die-hards of the genre and of Lang’s works.

Special Features:

Other than the commentary, Kino provides only one more supplemental item of note.  It’s a gallery of production photos with a look at a lost deleted scene. That’s it. Final judgment?  It’s a film worth owning; a film worth watching and we should be thankful that Kino has added it to their releases and just go on with our lives.

Trailer

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