|2014 is almost half over. I've seen a lot of movies so far this year and I'm sure I'll see many more before this year is over. But as of today, June 12th, my vote for the best movie I've seen this year goes to SCARLET STREET (1945), which I watched for the first time last night.|
What an amazing film! This is textbook film noir, drenched in despair and doom. From the beginning of the film, you just know that things aren't going to turn out well for poor Chris Cross (brilliantly played by Edward G. Robinson) as he falls head-over-heels in love with Kitty March (the incendiary Joan Bennett). In the noir universe created by director Fritz Lang, the road to hell is paved with women who look like Bennett does here and Robinson, the poor sap, buys a first class, one-way express ticket to eternal damnation.
Robinson falls victim to both Bennett and her oleaginous boyfriend, Johnny (Dan Duryea). Duryea comes on like Eddie Haskell on steroids. He's oh-so-obsequious, oozing fake charm and insincere bonhomie. Everything about the guy, from his slightly high-pitched, squeaky voice, to his bow ties, to that damn corny straw boater hat, screams phony and fake. But Johnny has his hooks in Kitty and she has hers in poor Chris and that's when the descent into ruin begins as the two plot to use Chris for everything he's worth. Trouble is, they think he's worth more than he really is.
There are several plot twists and turns in the narrative. A character who was believed dead earlier in the film, shows up in the third act to serve as both a hindrance and liberator for the hen-pecked Chris. Freed of his nagging, oppressive wife, Chris goes to Kitty and proclaims his love for her. She laughs at him and calls him names. SPOILER ALERT! Enraged, he murders her with an ice pick. Boyfriend Johnny is accused of the crime, tried, convicted (on purely circumstantial evidence) and executed. Only Chris survives and, consumed by guilt, he tries to end his own life. He's unsuccessful and spends the rest of his days wandering the streets of New York, a homeless, broken man carrying an impossible burden of guilt and regret.
Director Fritz Lang orchestrates the action with a master's touch. He repeatedly shoots the characters through doorways, windows and other square, geometric spaces which serve to visually emphasize how utterly trapped by fate they all are. The three leads are all magnificent. It's interesting that Robinson plays a painter in this film because in his later life he was quite an art expert and connoisseur.
SCARLET STREET rightfully deserves to be placed in the first rank of classic noirs. If there's any one out there who doesn't know what a film noir is and wants to see for themselves what all of the hubbub is about, I submit that all they need to do is watch SCARLET STREET. This film says it all.