Scarlet Street

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Scarlet Street
Scarlet Street p.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed byFritz Lang
Screenplay byDudley Nichols
Based onLa Chienne
1931 novel and play
by Georges de La Fouchardière (novel)
André Mouézy-Éon (play)
Produced byWalter Wanger
Fritz Lang
StarringEdward G. Robinson
Joan Bennett
Dan Duryea
CinematographyMilton R. Krasner
Edited byArthur Hilton
Music byHans J. Salter
Walter Wanger Productions
Fritz Lang Productions
Diana Production Company
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 28, 1945 (1945-12-28) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,948,386[1]

Scarlet Street is a 1945 American film noir directed by Fritz Lang. The screenplay concerns two criminals who take advantage of a middle-aged painter in order to steal his artwork. The film is based on the French novel La Chienne (literally The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière, that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir.[2]

The principal actors Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea had earlier appeared together in The Woman in the Window (1944), also directed by Fritz Lang. Local authorities in three cities (New York, Milwaukee, and Atlanta) banned Scarlet Street early in 1946 because of its dark plot and themes.[3]

The film is in the public domain.[4][5]


Christopher "Chris" Cross, a meek amateur painter and cashier for a clothing retailer, is fêted by his employer for twenty-five years of service. After company head J.J. Hogarth presents Chris with a gold watch and kind words, Hogarth leaves the party and gets into a car with a beautiful young blonde. Chris muses to a colleague about his desire to be loved by a young woman like that.

Walking home through Greenwich Village, Chris sees a young woman, Katherine "Kitty" March, being attacked, and knocks her assailant unconscious with his umbrella. After Chris dashes off to summon a policeman he had earlier noticed patrolling, the assailant – who is actually Kitty's boyfriend Johnny – regains consciousness and flees. Chris then walks Kitty to her apartment and she accepts his offer of a cup of coffee at the bar situated at the bottom of her building. His wistful remarks about art suggest to her that Chris must be a wealthy painter.

Enamored of Kitty and thinking she feels affection for him, Chris tells her about his loveless marriage. His shrewish wife Adele, idolizes her previous husband – a policeman believed drowned in the East River while trying to rescue a suicidal woman.

Needing funds for a shady business deal, Johnny believes Kitty should play on Chris' naivete and feign romantic interest in the supposed rich artist in order to swindle money from him. Kitty persuades Chris to rent her an apartment. She sweetens this by suggesting he could use the place as his art studio. To finance the apartment, Chris steals $500 in insurance bonds from his wife and later $1000 cash from his employer.

Unknown to Chris, Johnny tries selling some of his paintings, leaving them with a Greenwich village street vendor who thinks them worth no more than $25. They unexpectedly attract the interest of art critic David Janeway, who declares the work is exceptional art. After Johnny persuades Kitty to pretend that she painted them, she charms Janeway with Chris's own views about art. Captivated by the paintings and by Kitty, Janeway promises to represent her. However, Adele sees her husband's paintings – signed "Katherine March" – for sale in the window of a commercial art gallery and accuses Chris of copying March's work. Chris confronts Kitty, who claims she sold them because she needed the money. He is so delighted that his creations are appreciated, albeit under a ruse, that he happily lets her become the public face of his art. She becomes a huge commercial success, although Chris never receives any of the money.

Adele's supposedly dead first husband, Higgins, suddenly appears at Chris's office to extort money from him. Higgins explains he did not drown, but disappeared after stealing $2,700 from the purse of the suicidal woman he tried to save. Already suspected of taking bribes from speakeasies, he faked his death to escape his crimes and his wife. Chris steals another $200 from his boss for Higgins. Aware that Adele is asleep in the bedroom, Chris lets Higgins in there – ostensibly to pilfer the insurance money Adele received after his supposed death, but really acting on the assumption that his tortuous marriage will be invalidated when his wife wakes and sees her first husband is still alive.

Chris goes to see Kitty, believing he is now free and that she will marry him. He finds Johnny and Kitty in an embrace, confirming his long-time suspicions that they are romantically involved. Hoping that she has only a fleeting infatuation for Johnny, Chris asks Kitty to marry him; she spurns him for being old and ugly and laughs in his face. Enraged, he stabs her to death with an ice pick. The police visit Chris; it has been determined he had embezzled money from his employer. His boss refuses to press charges, but fires Chris. Johnny is arrested for Kitty's murder.

At the trial, all of Johnny's small-time hustling and deceptions work against him. Despite his attempt to implicate Chris in Kitty's murder, Chris denies painting the pictures, claiming to be an untalented artist. Several witnesses confirm Chris's testimony and attest to Johnny's misdeeds and bad character. Johnny is convicted and put to death for Kitty's murder, Chris goes unpunished, and Kitty is erroneously immortalized as a great artist.

Haunted by the murder, Chris attempts to hang himself on the night of Johnny's execution, but is rescued. Several years later, he has become homeless and destitute, with no way of claiming credit for his own paintings, one of which has now been sold for $10,000. Tormented by thoughts of Kitty and Johnny loving each other eternally, Chris wanders New York, constantly hearing their voices in his mind.



Scarlet Street

Scarlet Street reunited director Fritz Lang with actors Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who had worked with him in The Woman in the Window (1944). The film was based on the French novel La Chienne (literally The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière, that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir. Lang's film Human Desire (1954) was based on another Renoir film La Bête humaine (1938), which was based on Émile Zola's novel on the same name. Renoir was said to have disliked both of Lang's films.

Scarlet Street is similar to The Woman in the Window in themes, cast, crew and characters. Robinson again plays a lonely middle-aged man and Bennett and Duryea once more play the criminal elements. Both films were photographed by Milton R. Krasner. Walter Wanger, who produced the film, had earlier produced Lang's 1937 film You Only Live Once.

Despite being considered a classic of film noir along with Lang's earlier film The Woman in the Window, Robinson, who noticed the thematic similarities between the two, found Scarlet Street monotonous to do and couldn't wait to finish it and move on to other projects. Robinson disliked making the former film as well.

Twelve paintings done for the film by John Decker were sent to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for exhibition in March 1946.


Box office[edit]

According to Variety, the film earned rentals of $2.5 million in the US.[6]


Joan Bennett as Kitty March

Bosley Crowther, The New York Times critic, gave the film a mixed review. He wrote,

But for those who are looking for drama of a firm and incisive sort, Scarlet Street is not likely to furnish a particularly rare experience. Dudley Nichols wrote the story from a French original, in which it might well have had a stinging and grisly vitality. In this presentation, however, it seems a sluggish and manufactured tale, emerging much more from sheer contrivance than from the passions of the characters involved. And the slight twist of tension which tightens around the principal character is lost in the middle of the picture when he is shelved for a dull stretch of plot. In the role of the love-blighted cashier Edward G. Robinson performs monotonously and with little illumination of an adventurous spirit seeking air. And, as the girl whom he loves, Joan Bennett is static and colorless, completely lacking the malevolence that should flash in her evil role. Only Dan Duryea as her boy friend hits a proper and credible stride, making a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tinhorn off the streets.[7]

A review in Variety magazine stated: "Fritz Lang's production and direction ably project the sordid tale of the romance between a milquetoast character and a gold-digging blonde ... Edward G. Robinson is the mild cashier and amateur painter whose love for Joan Bennett leads him to embezzlement, murder and disgrace. Two stars turn in top work to keep the interest high, and Dan Duryea's portrayal of the crafty and crooked opportunist whom Bennett loves is a standout in furthering the melodrama."[8]

The film critic at Time gave Scarlet Street a negative review describing the plot as clichéd and with dimwitted, unethical, stock characters.[9]

Critic Dennis Schwartz wrote in 2003:

Scarlet Street is a bleak psychological film noir that has the same leading actors as his 1944 film The Woman in the Window. It sets a long-standing trend of a criminal not punished for his crime; this is the first Hollywood film where that happened ... The Edward G. Robinson character is viewed as an ordinary man who is influenced by an evil couple who take advantage of his vulnerability and lead him down an amoral road where he eventually in a passionate moment loses his head and commits murder. Chris's imagination can no longer save him from his dreadful existence, and his complete downfall comes about as the talented artist loses track of reality and his dignity.[10]

Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson

In 1995, Matthew Bernstein wrote in Cinema Journal: "The film is a dense, well-structured film noir and has been analyzed and interpreted numerous times. Some of the earliest interpretations came from censors in three different cities," adding:

On January 4, 1946, the New York State Censor Board banned Scarlet Street entirely, relying on the statute that gave it power to censor films that were "obscene, indecent, immoral, inhuman, sacrilegious" or whose exhibition "would tend to corrupt morals or incite to crime." As if in a chain reaction, one week later the Motion Picture Commission for the city of Milwaukee also banned the film as part of a new policy encouraged by police for "stricter regulation of undesirable films." On February 3 Christina Smith, the city censor of Atlanta, argued that because of "the sordid life it portrayed, the treatment of illicit love, the failure of the characters to receive orthodox punishment from the police, and because the picture would tend to weaken a respect for the law," Scarlet Street was "licentious, profane, obscure and contrary to the good order of the community."... Universal was discouraged from challenging the constitutionality of the censors by the protests of the national religious groups that arose as the Atlanta case went to court.[11]

In 1998, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader included the film in his unranked list of the best American films not included on the AFI Top 100.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p443
  2. ^ Scarlet Street at IMDb
  3. ^ Matthew Bernstein, "A Tale of Three Cities: The Banning of Scarlet Street". Cinema Journal (Autumn 1995), 27-52.
  4. ^ Rapold, Nicolas (14 February 2014). "Even Good Films May Go to Purgatory: Old Films Fall Into Public Domain Under Copyright Law". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  5. ^ Murray, Noel (23 November 2005). "Scarlet Street & House By The River". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  6. ^ "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  7. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, February 15, 1946. Last accessed: April 11, 2008.
  8. ^ Variety. Film review, 1945. Last accessed: April 11, 2008.
  9. ^ Cinema: The New Pictures, Jan. 21, 1946
  10. ^ Schwartz, Dennis "An uncompromising subversive remake of Jean Renoir's La Chienne (1931)". Film review at Ozus' World Movie Reviews, February 13, 2003. Accessed: June 20, 2013.
  11. ^ Bernstein, Matthew (Autumn 1995). "A Tale of Three Cities: The Banning of Scarlet Street". Cinema Journal. 35 (1): 27–52. doi:10.2307/1225806. JSTOR 1225806., pp. 27-52.
  12. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (June 25, 1998). "List-o-Mania: Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love American Movies". Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on April 13, 2020.

External links[edit]