Scarlet Street (1945)

Directed by Fritz Lang, Dudley Nichols (screenplay), Georges De La Fouchardiere (novel)

“You got him softened up. Now push him around a bit.”

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Bank cashier and amateur painter Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) is celebrating 25 years with the bank when he interrupts a mugging and meets the gorgeous Kitty (Joan Bennet). With a wife who hates him and a relatively boring life he quickly becomes infatuated with the young girl, who begins working with her fiancé to take Mr. Cross for as much money as possible. When the scandalous young couple passes Mr. Cross’s paintings off as Kitty’s they begin to sell very well, garnering attention and increasingly risking exposure for everyone.

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There’s more working here than just that skeleton of a story. Bennet’s excellent portrayal of the wicked Kitty, who’s taken up with the wrong man and wouldn’t have it any other way, sells the story, but Robinson’s performance as the hopeless, lovestruck Mr. Cross brings home the bacon. Even the smug, scheming boyfriend/fiance (Dan Duryea) has a strong pull, giving you someone to dislike and displacing some of the heat in just the right way.

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The story starts off quite sad as the viewer is shown a good man being abused by almost everyone except those at his relatively thankless job. But when he finally realizes the extent to which he’s been pushed and lashes out, he loses control so completely he essentially ends anything in his life that gave any meaning to it at all.

The characters prey on your sympathy, forcing you to draw your line in the sand and take a stand with the hapless victim, then turn the whole situation on its head. In the end, the film adds up to one of the most lusciously dark stories in the medium.

“Nobody gets away with murder.”

5 stars

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