Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Moments of Distinction

The Film – Scarlet Street, dir Fritz Lang

Christopher Cross (Edward G Robinson) has been conned by Katherine March and her boyfriend Johnny, who have been selling off his artwork under her name. Cross finds out and kills her in a fit of rage, and Johnny emerges as the prime suspect. This is a marvelous montage of testimonies from his trial. We hear from Johnny, from a couple of art experts, from her landlord, from a bartender, from a man who lent Johnny the ice pick which became the murder weapon, from Katherine’s girlfriend, from Cross’ harridan wife, Cross himself, and finally from Johnny again.

“She didn’t paint those pictures! Old Cross isn’t as dumb as he looks. HE painted them!”

“The accused brought me two pictures. He told me Miss March painted them.”

“In my expert opinion, there is no doubt about it. She was a very great artist.”

“She told me she was an artist when she rented the studio. He was with her. I didn’t like him then, and I don’t like him now!”

“Yeah, he was mean when he was drunk. He said he was gonna fix her when he left my place at about 2 AM”

“That’s when I say, you watch out, Johnny – You gonna kill somebody. So he kills her with my ice pick!”

“ I heard her say “Hey, Johnny!” before she hung up. He was there, all right! What I don’t understand is all this talk about her being an artist. I never saw her paint!”

“That was one of her peculiar traits. She never let anyone see her paint. I’ve compared her handwriting with the signature. There’s no question!”

“Mr. Cross paint??? Humph! He only copied her work! He’s a thief! He stole from me, from his employer, and from Katherine March.”

“My wife…I mean my former wife is correct. I really can’t paint. My copies were so bad I had to destroy them.”

“For god’s sake!!! He’s lying!!!!”

I think that this sequence is simply astounding. In the course of a minute or two, we see a pile of circumstantial evidence allow one man to get away with murder, and another, innocent man to go to the electric chair. Note how the camera gradually moves closer to the speaker, culminating with the good and decent Cross covering his tracks, and the frantic Johnny, who was so cool and saucy in the first frame, now pleading for his life. Scarlet Street is unusual for a Hayes Code-era film, in that someone gets away with murder (with a caveat - Cross ends up insane from guilt). I love how this little monologue boils the film down so neatly, and how the stuff that could be damning to Cross is negated.


RC said...

wow...those are some great stills!

i've only seen motropolis my lange but this looks like a great sequence.

Jeff Duncanson said...

Thanks for the comment - Lang is one of the giants of the cinema, for sure. He is best known for a small handful of films, Metropolis being one of them (Along with M and The Big Heat), but a lot of his lesser-known stuff is equal to to better than those. Scarlet Street is a remake of the Jean renopir film Le Chienne, and it's a great, great film.

Bob said...

Beautiful stills...or screen captures.

"Scarlet Street" is pretty great stuff...but everytime I hear Eddie G's called "Christopher Cross" the theme from "Arthur" and "Sailing" go through my head.

Jeff Duncanson said...

LOL - Well, yeah....Me, too