Part 3 in our Free For All Month, in which Jill and I choose films we’ve had on our wishlists for some time. It’s been an eclectic January to say the least. I don’t think I’m quite over the killer mermaids of last week yet.
However, if you’re after powerful women (this time sans fins), you can do a lot worst that this weeks noir, in which we meet Kitty March, a femme fatale who can’t be arsed to work so grifts instead. Interested? Read on, baby…
Scarlet Street (1945)
When a man in mid-life crisis befriends a young woman, her venal fiancé persuades her to con him out of some of the fortune she thinks he has.
Christopher Cross (Robinson) is a sad and lonely bunny. This is not a good sign given he’s only been married to his wife Adele for a few short years but there it is.
After a night on the town one evening, Cross rescues a woman being duffed up in the street by a tall blonde man. Knocking out the perp and dusting off the damsel, Cross (‘Chris Cross’) takes her to a late night cafe where he gets to know her better. Our impossibly glamorous heroine, Katherine ‘Kitty’ Marsh (Bennett) is a sassy miss and also a master manipulator.
Cross is obviously smitten from the get go (as are we), forgetting to mention that he’s married. He also leads her to believe he’s a business man and a successful one at that. They talk about art and he reveals he’s a painter who hasn’t sold anything for a while.
Kitty isn’t a single gal herself and we soon learn that the violent young thug from the street scuffle is actually her man, Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea). He’s no prince though and despite constant warnings from her BFF Millie (Margaret Lindsay), Kitty remains head over heels in love. Johnny is a prize fuck face by the way, slapping her regularly and telling her not to start. I used to have a boyfriend like this (minus the physical violence), he is Scum with a capital ‘S’.
For the record, all the characters are self-serving monsters, including Chris’ wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), for whom the phrase ‘battle-axe’ must surely have been invented. She belittles her husband while bitching and moaning her way across the screen, it’s quite glorious and inspiring, actually. As a result, Cross has no guilt about putting Kitty up in a condo of her own, supplying her with a steady roll of cash and generally doing her bidding in exchange for not much.
Kitty is reluctant to work and spends most of her days reclining across the couch in the apartment she shares with Millie, listening to records and reading magazines. I can’t deny I identified with her very strongly in these moments. “Lazy Legs” indeed.
What Kitty doesn’t know is that Cross is just a lowly bank cashier taking money from the safe to provide for her. He is a keen painter but not all that successful, that much is true. Johnny pushes Kitty to get her hands on more and more, and Chris relents.
Somewhere along the line we learn that Adele only married Cross because her first husband, Homer (Charles Kemper) died. She keeps an enormous canvas of his face on the wall in the lounge, to drive the point home that Chris was second choice (fair). Homer, in death, seems to have earned his sainthood while I can’t think of anything worse than gazing upon the face of one of my exes everyday, UGH.
Wouldn’t it be odd, and also convenient for Chris, if Homer were to rock up very much alive, thus challenging the validity of the whole Cross marriage? *wide eyes*
Meanwhile, Johnny has a scam going involving some of the paintings Cross has done. These end up catching the attention of a shit hot NY art critic, who wants to know immediately who painted them. Wouldn’t it be weird if Kitty were to take credit for them herself, and then accidentally become the toast of the big apple art scene? *innocent look*
Some of these things might happen but in amidst all this drama something very dark occurs and one of our main characters is left realising that when it comes to CRIMES OF PASSION, nobody gets off scot-free.
But who, what and why? That’s for you to unfurl, my friends. If you’ve any interest in films from the forties, love your females central and feisty or just enjoy a damn good movie experience, then this is a good bet, I promise.
Apart from the lackadaisical attitudes to woman beating in this film, I was enamored. Johnny throws slaps round like a short tempered octopus which is very bad but I suppose we could argue that along the way he gets his comeuppance. It’s just a shame that Kitty doesn’t come out of top (despite her own flaws). I enjoy it when that happens.
Her laziness is also quite refreshing, though her lack of ambition and desire just to hang around her man aren’t characteristics of your typical fatale and that sort of bothers me. She is a master manipulator with a weakness for being manipulated which we have seen in characters such as Norma Desmond but I just wished she’d wised up in the end. Perhaps she would have, given more time.
Otherwise, the story is multi-layered, shocking, exciting and exactly what you want from an old Hollywood crime caper/thriller. All performances are spot on, Robinson has a rubbery faced charm that quickly turns to creepy when you realise he’s just as bad as the rest of them and not the innocent and lonely old man he’d have us believe. Bennett is a vision.
It’s actually refreshing to watch a movie where every character is out for themselves and not have to feel you need to pick a side. This doesn’t make them any less likable as bad people are fascinating most of the time, it just evens the playing field a bit.
4.5/5. Excellent. They do make ’em like they used to but not often which is why it’s fun to travel back to the 1940s every now and again.
Did my beloved enjoy her skip down Scarlet Street or is she ready to double cross it? Find out for yourselves here. ❤