Scarlet Street ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Lang's version of La Chienne (previously filmed, brilliantly, by Jean Renoir) is somehow even bleaker and seemingly more uncompromised despite being made in Hollywood for Walter Wanger, distributed by Universal. Edward G. Robinson is impeccably cast as Christopher Cross, the lonely middle-aged cashier and painter in a loveless marriage that has him trapped and abused; in a mindset of desperation and sexual obsession he falls for an "actress" named Kitty (Joan Bennett) who takes him for a ride along with her hidden boyfriend Johnny, Dan Duryea in one of the best slimy villain performances in film noir. Lang and Milton Krasner drench everything in darkness; even daytime scenes are oppressive. Apart from the handsome grit of the production, though, the major divergence from Renoir's film -- which was also darkly comic and boasted an ingenious performance at its center, by Michel Simon -- is in its sheer glee at its characters' almost uniform sadism, with even the mild-mannered Cross eventually crossing over into depravity; only Kitty's roommate Millie (Margaret Lindsay) comes across as a rational, reasonable human being who sees others for what they are. The implication seems to be that whereas Renoir was dismissing with conventional morals, Lang views most people skeptically, as though any of them could be pushed into evil actions with sufficient prompting. The other big divergence is in the finale, which turns the Hays requirement for punished crimes on its head by defining that as an eternal psychosexual torment foisted upon Robinson for what appears to be an eternity, denying him even the relief of suicide, or certainly the amusingly facile connection Simon finds at the end of La Chienne. None of it's pretty, but in its own wildly cynical fashion, it's a weird sort of delight.