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Blu-ray Review: Scarlet Street

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The Film

One of Fritz Lang’s best-known American films, the atmospheric Scarlet Street saw Lang reuniting Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea from the previous year’s Woman in the Window. In Scarlet Street, the mild-mannered might be consumed with rage on the inside and placid New York City streets belie a sinister underbelly.

Scarlet StreetAn enormously sympathetic Robinson stars as Christopher Cross, a cashier receiving a 25th anniversary lifetime achievement award from his boss as the film opens. Presented with a gold watch and an open bar for slogging through that long, Cross experiences what might be one of the best nights of his life. The pleasure he receives from so small a gesture (even boss Russell Hicks can’t be bothered to stick around for the entire party) is a sad, poignant human moment. Cross isn’t a cynic, but he seems fully aware of how little life has left to offer him.

Robinson’s incredibly realized pathos during these opening moments is crucial to his character’s disintegration. Walking home from the party, he saves (or so he thinks) a young beautiful woman, Kitty March (Bennett), from a mugger. The two go for a drink, she casually flirts and he doesn’t correct her when she mistakenly assumes he’s a wealthy artist. Flying high on the euphoria of the night, Cross dares to hope.

His real home life — married to a nagging shrew (Rosalind Ivan) and unappreciated for his amateur painting — can’t compare with the budding romance he sees developing with Kitty. Of course, she’s only interested in the money she thinks he has, and her boyfriend, Johnny (Duryea, whose flippant smarminess makes for a superbly ordinary villain), is convinced she can really bleed him dry.

A moment of weakness for Cross soon turns into an obsessive (and expensive) attempt to satisfy Kitty’s needs, but when his paintings attract the attention of a prominent dealer and critic, a permanent and lucrative source of income seems within grasp. For a while, Cross feels as if he’s in control of his own destiny and his prospects are on the rise, but the charade can’t last forever.

Lang’s camera work is expressive and haunting, and the unnatural touches that tinge the film’s production design heighten the disquieting sense of unreality that pervades the film. Cross ought to know his situation is too good to be true, and Robinson’s utterly likable but sadly pathetic performance makes the inevitability of that discovery all the more heartbreaking.

The Blu-ray Disc

Presented in 1080p high definition in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Kino’s Blu-ray edition of Scarlet Street comes sourced from a 35mm negative preserved by the Library of Congress. The film is in the public domain, but these elements have been preserved in excellent shape, with only minimal damage to be seen. Blacks are especially strong, filling the screen with deep, dark shadows, and fine detail is pretty good throughout. Whites occasionally look a tad bit blown-out, but the transfer never overdoes it on the contrast, and maintains a nice film-like look throughout.

Audio is presented in a decent mono track that presents all dialogue adequately clean and clear.

Special Features

The one major extra is an audio commentary featuring historian and Lang scholar David Kalat, which has been carried over from Kino’s previous DVD release of the film. Also included is a gallery of poster art and production stills, several of which come from deleted scenes.

The Bottom Line

A undeniably great film noir, Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street shines in this high-def release.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.