Film Noir : Post Podcast Homework

Series 2 is underway, and with that in mind, here is the first of a weekly blog, in which I set post podcast “homework”. Or rather, I make a recommendation of a thematically appropriate film possibly not mentioned in the episode. Typically these will be underrated or little known gems rather than major classics.

 

Since episode 1 of this series delved into film noir and femme fatales, your “homework” this week is to watch Scarlet Street. Directed by Fritz Lang, this 1945 moody monochrome masterpiece is not as celebrated as the more well-known noir classics of the period, but it is one of my absolute favourites. It features a superb central performance from the excellent Edward G Robinson (in this genre, better known for his stunning supporting role in Double Indemnity). He plays a meek cashier and amateur painter, hen-pecked in a loveless marriage with a woman who idolises her previous husband. After meeting Kitty (Joan Bennett) and becoming enamoured with her, he is drawn into a con scheme which eventually escalates into murder.

 

Scarlet Street goes to some admirably dark places – so much so that it was banned in various parts of America on release. It also features an interesting spin on the man-undone-by-femme-fatale trope. Incidentally, Lang directed a number of key entries in the noir genre – including You Only Live Once, The Woman in the Window, and the controversially brutal The Big Heat (still shocking even by today’s standards).

 

Lang originally worked in Germany, directing classics such as serial killer thriller M and – most emphatically – Metropolis; the first great science fiction film, which Hitler apparently loved. Goebbels asked Lang to be involved in Nazi film propaganda. The very next day Lang left for Hollywood, leaving his wife (a Nazi sympathiser) behind in Germany. However, Lang’s body of work from the Weimar Republic era continued to cast a bleak shadow over his American output. Unlike the classic noir films by American directors, in which destruction and hell awaits those who stepped off the straight and narrow, Lang’s protagonists were often victims of circumstance. His trademark despair at a cruel, unfair world is evident in every frame of Scarlet Street.

Samantha Stephen