Scarlet Street: Everyone's a Scumbag in Film Noir

The next movie on the list is a 1945 film called Scarlet Street.  I'm going in blind on this one...the only thing I know is that it was directed by Fritz Lang and it's film noir, so presumably I'm going to hate everyone and feel like I need to take a shower at the end of the movie.

Chris is a humble, sad sack cashier of 25 years who moonlights as a painter with no confidence in his work.  He's coming home from a fancy dinner party when he sees Kitty, who is being assaulted by Johnny, and comes to her rescue.  Somehow they have one of those classic misunderstandings where Kitty thinks that he's a wealthy artist and he doesn't bother to correct her.

So Kitty and Johnny hatch a plan to take advantage of the old man, and Kitty plays the helpless poor woman who needs his financial support and is presumably willing to exchange sexual favors for cash.  And it actually works.  He even gets her an apartment.

But then Johnny decides that he wants to push his luck, and they sell some of Chris's paintings to an art gallery owner who thinks they're great.  Only thing is, Kitty signs her name on them so she gets all the credit. Seriously, do these people even have souls?

Like the doormat that he is, Chris is happy to let Kitty take all the credit and the money.  At this point, I don't even feel bad for him anymore.  People who are that willing to be taken advantage of kind of deserve it.  I mean, he walks in on Kitty and Johnny together and still asks her to marry him after he finds out that his wife's first husband is still alive.

Finally, she tells him exactly what she thinks of him.  And does not hold back.  Seriously.  I'm not even a dude and I feel emasculated.  So he kills her with an ice pick, and makes it look like Johnny did it.

It's always the quiet ones.  So Kitty's dead, Johnny gets the chair, and Chris gets off scott free.  Realistically, he probably shouldn't feel that bad because he's just done the entire world a huge favor by ridding it of these two assholes, but the murder eats him up inside.  He tries to kill himself, but ends up this sad pathetic homeless guy who wanders around, haunted by their voices.

You can always count on film noir for a happy ending.

Random Musings:

  • Haha his name is Chris Cross.

  • I love the look of happiness on Chris's face when he tells his friend that he's been married for five years.  And when I say happiness, I mean complete, abject misery.  Poor, poor, emasculated Chris.

  • Aw, isn't Johnny and Kitty's abusive relationship cute?  I mean, how dare she not bring Johnny enough money and then give him a dirty look?  It's not like he's an adult male who should presumably be able to manage his finances on his own and control his impulses to lash out violently against a physically weaker human being.

  • I love the way Kitty says, "You can paint my portrait."  Holy mother of all sexual subtext.

  • Oh man...his wife.  This sums up everything I would like to do to her.

  • Does Chris do anything with his life besides getting shit on by everyone he knows?  I just want to give him a hug.

  • "It's only blackmail when you're dumb enough to get caught."  No, I'm pretty sure it's still blackmail.

  • It is so distracting that Kitty has this tough, woman of the streets thing going on...except for the way she says "can't".  So that it rhymes with the way a priggish New Englander pronounces the word "aunt".  This does not compute.

  • I've got a bone to pick with Johnny.  I never understand why characters like him bother lying when it's obviously going to blow up in their faces.  What is telling the art critic that Kitty's the painter really going to accomplish for anyone long term?  They're going to find out pretty quickly that she can't paint.  And what about Chris?  How long can they possibly expect to keep him from finding out?  This is why Johnny's a terrible con man...he doesn't know how to play a long game.

  • Can Johnny please go fall in a hole and die?  Or get syphilis and die?  Because that would be really emotionally satisfying for me.  I'm really not picky, so long as it ends with him dying horribly.  (Edit: *punches the air*)

Here's my thing:  I'm usually not the hugest fan of film noir, just because everything's always shady and depressing and there's never a happy ending and all the men are swindlers and all the women are sluts and it's just too much negativity and it screws with my chi, ok?  That said, I do appreciate the moral ambiguities they bring to the medium, seemingly out of nowhere.  It's like all of a sudden there's a war on and the pictures get all cynical and sketchy.  I love that it's a movement that developed independently in America, and when the war ended and people in Europe finally got a chance to see the movies being made in the US, everyone was like, "Shit, you guys got dark."  I think it's probably one of the most interesting developments in cinema just because it's so out of left field but completely organic at the same time.

And to be fair, I do like this one.  Although Kitty, Johnny, and Chris are complete caricatures, it's still an engaging story where you're waiting to find out what happens next.  It's all very uncomfortable, particularly the pimp-prostitute relationship going on between Johnny and Kitty, and the awkward marriage between Chris and his wife.  It does get to a certain point when you wash your hands of it and think, "OK, I'm done.  These assholes deserve what they get."

But there's a weird moment towards the end of the film when Johnny is about to be executed and (at least for me) you feel a tiny bit bad for the little douchebag.  I think for me it's the fact that he is ultimately being put to death for something he didn't do, and that makes me uncomfortable.  It's a testament to the film that after all the stuff he's done throughout the entire story, they were able to wring a drop of sympathy from me. And the scene at the end, when Chris is in his apartment listening to the disembodied voices of Kitty and's amazingly well done.  So chilling and off-putting.  Really great.

That's it for me.  Thanks for reading, and come back next time!

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