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"Who do you think you are? My guardian angel?" "Not me, honey. I lost those wings a long time ago."
Kino / 102 Minutes / 1945 / Unrated / Street Date: February 28, 2012
Obsession is the driving force in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street, a film noir often cited as being the legendary director's most accomplished English-language picture. When we first meet Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson), he's a mellow, lackaday dude, a working chump who is in every way normal. But wouldn't you know it? A dame comes around and gums that up.
When the mercurial - and busty - Kitty (Joan Bennett) infiltrates poor Cross' world, things go straight into the gutter. Chris falls instantly and ferociously in love with Kitty, but the bird is only playing a part in order to weasel her way into his pocketbook. As is so often the case in movies like this one, she's got a pimp boyfriend (Dan Duryea) across town, and she's only fleecing Chris for his coin.
With elegance and well-peppered dramatic development, Lang keeps his plates spinning in Scarlet Street with laudable directorial finesse. This isn't a patently great noir movie (it pales compared to Double Indemnity or Pickup on South Street), but Lang proves his deftness with the medium by turning what is at its core very base and predictable melodramatic pulp material into a legitimately engaging flick.
Like so many other film noirs, there's a thinness to Scarlet Street that forces the movie to all but evaporate as it storms into its final reel, but that's part of the fun of genre pictures like this one. Lang's status as one of the more iconic figures of early 20th century filmmakers is substantial, and with Scarlet Street, we get a wonderful chance to see why. In anybody else's hands, this would be just another noir romance/thriller. Thanks to Lang, it plays in 2012 like a lightweight cult favorite.