Mr. Criss Cross (Edward G. Robinson) has got a rough life. He’s a lowly cashier at a bank and is married to a woman who constantly puts him down. His only joy in his life is indulging in his love of painting. However, even that now feels like a a hollow reprieve from his marriage and life.
Then one day he meets the beautiful Kitty (Joan Bennett) who takes a liking to him or so she leads him to believe. There’s sinister motives behind Kitty’s attraction to him. She and her con-artist boyfriend Johnny (Dan Duryea) mistakenly believe Criss is a rich, talented artist and set out to exploit and use him for as much money as they can.
Their con grows and lies start spilling out of everyone mouths! Criss’ devotion to his new love deepens to the point he’s willing to go to any lengths to obtain enough cash to make her happy, Johnny attempts to sell Criss’ amateur artwork resulting in quite the surprise, Kitty continues the facade of being in love with him and Criss himself hopes of a way to get out of his marriage so he can spend his life with this woman who cares nothing for him.
Directed by Fritz Lang, Scarlett Street reteams him with his trio of actors from The Woman In The Window.
It begins as such a seemingly simple story that grows into multiple deceptions and lies by everyone. The tension begins to slowly escalate for Robinson who is aware that’s he’s in a quite a bind to keep this woman happy and desperate to provide her with the material wealth she desires. Rather than owning up to his limitations he becomes willing to go to any lengths to keep Kitty happy and make her his.
Robinson is excellent in this. His Criss is excited and alive when he begins his relationship with Kitty, a huge contrast of when he’s with his wife. Yet, he’s also a sad and pathetic character. It’s clear he’s being used by Kitty, that she cares nothing for him, rather than to take stand he appears to passively accept that just to keep his illusion of her love for him intact. Their relationship becomes almost a mirror to his broken marriage.
During most of the film I kept wanting Robinson to finally stand up to her and not allow himself to be manipulated by her and Johnny. I felt real compassion for him and despised the pair for what they were putting him through.
Along with Robinson the rest of the cast are all very good. Bennett is a cynical, calculating gold-digger of a dame. She doesn’t generate much sympathy with her actions until we see she’s being used in a similar way by Johnny. The manipulation is just dripping over everyone in this!
There are times when she starts to seem reluctant with continuing the con, but like Criss she’s willing to go to any lengths for Johnny’s affection and he has no qualms taking advantage of this ‘rich artist’.
Bennett is gorgeous and you can see how a man would be easily enamored by her, but there are certain scenes where her lack of compassion I think would make any sensible man head out the door. Unfortunately, Criss is not one of them.
One of my favorites Duryea gives another terrific sleazy, slime ball performance. The guy was brilliant playing these type of characters. He was so good at playing such unsavory characters it’s always a jolt to me when I see him play a character with some kind of morals.
Scarlett Street is not a ‘happy’ movie (most noirs aren’t), but it’s definitely a memorable and unpredictable one. The ending is a whole lot of tragic for everyone. In fact, I think everyone gets a much harsher ending than they deserve. If you’ve seen it, what do you think? Talk about depressing!
A really good film, a great performance by Robinson (who apparently didn’t care for the film) and a classic noir by Lang. It’s definitely worth watching.
I couldn’t find a decent trailer for Scarlett Street, so here’s a TCM intro to it by Ben Mankiewicz