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Kino on Video presents
Scarlet Street (1945)

Adele Cross: Next thing you'll be painting women without clothes.
Christopher Cross: I never saw a woman without any clothes.
Adele Cross: I should hope not!

- Rosalind Ivan, Edward G. Robinson

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: January 17, 2006

Stars: Edward G. Robinson
Other Stars: Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Rosalind Ivan, Margaret Lindsay
Director: Fritz Lang

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexuality, violence)
Run Time: 01h:41m:53s
Release Date: November 22, 2005
UPC: 738329042028
Genre: film noir


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+AB+ B

DVD Review

Everyone who loves film noir should love Fritz Lang, and everyone who loves Fritz Lang should love Scarlet Street. I fit both criteria, and it's not only my favorite Lang film, but my favorite noir of all, a seedy story of deception and sexual obsession, produced outside the Hollywood studio system and so shocking in its time that it's hard to believe it was produced at the height of the Hayes Code and film industry self-censorship.

Screen legend Edward G. Robinson, perhaps best-known for his gangster pictures but a chameleon who never played a specific type, is Christopher Cross, a middle-aged, middle-manager, pathetic sad sack of a man who is ignored by his bosses and bossed around by his wife—the film opens with a party celebrating Chris's 25 years with the company, and its clear he's getting a gold watch but no respect as the company president rushes out for a date with his mistress; Chris goes home, but his wife has no interest in him either, and insults him for not standing up for himself. He retreats into the bathroom and creates crude expressionistic paintings that reveal his fragile emotional state, but the wife thinks they are a waste of time.

One night, Chris comes across Kitty (Joan Bennett), a prostitute (not that she's clearly identified as such) who mistakes him for a rich man. He lets her believe it, and soon enough Kitty and her pimp Johnny (Dan Duryea) are concocting a scheme to cheat Chris out of his money. When an art critic gets a look at Chris's work and likes it, Kitty convinces him to let her pretend to be the painter. Even as "her" fame grows, Chris becomes jealous of Kitty's relationship with Johnny, even as he steals from his employers in an attempt to maintain his wealthy image.

One of the darkest, most psychologically complex of all noirs, Scarlet Street is a remake of comedic Renoir film La Chienne, the rights to which were originally acquired by Paramount for Ernst Lubitsch to direct. Lubitsch couldn't make it work, though, and Lang, who had just started his own independent film studio with the help of producer Walter Wanger (Bennett's husband), snapped it up, despite similarities to his previous picture, The Woman in the Window. While I sometimes balk at film critics who like to analyze the Freudian subtext of Alien, Scarlet Street is complex enough to merit such investigation. Cross is the signature castrated male, Kitty is the perfect, castrating femme fatal, literally stealing his identity.

But really, Scarlet Street isn't a great film because Lang pumped it full of visual double entendre and hidden meaning. Rather, it's everything, from a trio of great performances—particularly Robinson, as wounded and sniveling as Chris as he is fearsome in his gangster roles—to Lang's tightly structured direction, to the unrelentingly bleak narrative.

Like many in the genre, Scarlet Street has a sleazy sexuality, prompting censors of the age to quibble about the number of times a character is shown being stabbed while ignoring a major plot point about an innocent man being executed for a crime he didn't commit. But the movie is about more than shocking content, telling a story that reveals, but does not revel in the dark side of human nature—pride, jealousy, and the unrestrained ego.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Previously available on videos sourced from muddy, public domain prints, Scarlet Street looks stunning in this new edition from Kino, taken from the original 35mm negative preserved in the Library of Congress.

The black-and-white image is fairly sharp, with excellent detail for a film of this vintage. Visible grain is to be expected, and gives the image its character, but I was happy to bid farewell to all the scratches and specks that have marred every previous edition. This is an excellent transfer for a worthy, underappreciated classic.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono mix is preserved and sounds pretty goodódialogue is presented with minimal distortion or background hiss, and the score, though a little airy, is well preserved.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film historian David Kalat
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Scarlet Street's chief extra is an informed, erudite commentary from Lang scholar David Kalat. He splits his comments between textual critique and discussing the picture's history, from the establishment and eventual failure of Lang's independent production company, Diana Pictures, to brief career histories of all the major players. Very interesting stuff, talky but never dull.

Otherwise, there is a brief gallery of production photos, including a few glimpses at deleted sequences.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A noir masterpiece and Fritz Lang's favorite of his American films, Scarlet Street more than equals contemporaries like Laura, and deserves at least as prominent a place in film history and popular regard. This wonderful new edition from Kino helps make the case with a revealing new transfer, remastered from materials archived in the Library of Congress.

 


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