In a way, Scarlet Street
is a remake. It's taken from a French novel, La Chienne
(literally, "The Bitch") that was first filmed by Jean Renoir in 1931. Renoir brought to the sordid tale all the colour and vitality of Montmartre; Fritz Lang's version shows us a far harsher and bleaker world. The film replays the triangle set-up from Lang's previous picture, The Woman in the Window
, with the same three actors. Once again, Edward G Robinson plays a respectable middle-aged citizen snared by the charms of Joan Bennett's streetwalker, with Dan Duryea as her low-life pimp. But this time around, all three characters have moved several notches down the ethical scale. Robinson, who in the earlier film played a college professor who kills by accident, here becomes a downtrodden clerk with a nagging, shrewish wife and unfilled ambitions as an artist, a man who murders in a jealous rage. Bennett is a mercenary vamp, none too bright, and Duryea brutal and heartless. The plot closes around the three of them like a steel trap. This is Lang at his most dispassionate. Scarlet Street
is a tour de force
of noir filmmaking, brilliant but ice-cold.
When it was made the film hit censorship problems, since at the time it was unacceptable to show a murder going unpunished. Lang went out of his way to show the killer plunged into the mental hell of his own guilt, but for some authorities this still wasn't enough, and the film was banned in New York State for being "immoral, indecent and corrupt". Not that this did its box-office returns any harm at all.
On the DVD: sparse pickings. There's an interactive menu that zips past too fast to be of much use. The full-length commentary by Russell Cawthorne adds the occasional insight, but it's repetitive and not always reliable. (He gets actors' names wrong, for a start.) The box claims the print's been "fully restored and digitally remastered", but you'd never guess. --Philip Kemp
DVD Special Features: Interactive Menus
Aspect ratio - 4:3