A box-office hit in its day (despite being banned in three states), Scarlet Street is perhaps legendary director Fritz Lang's (M, Metropolis) finest American film. But for decades, Scarlet Street has languished on poor quality VHS tape and in colorized versions. Kino's immaculate new HD transfer, from a 35mm Library of Congress vault negative, restores Lang's extravagantly fatalistic vision to its original B&W glory. When middle-aged milquetoast Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson -- Double Indemnity, Little Caesar) rescues street-walking bad girl Kitty (Joan Bennett -- The Reckless Moment) from the rain slicked gutters of an eerily artificial backlot Greenwich Village, he plunges headlong into a whirlpool of lust, larceny and revenge. As Chris' obsession with the irresistibly vulgar Kitty grows, the meek cashier is seduced, corrupted, humiliated and transformed into an avenging monster before implacable fate and perverse justice triumph in the most satisfyingly downbeat denouement in the history of American film. Both Scarlet Street producer Walter Wanger's wife and director Lang's mistress, Joan Bennett created a femme fatale icon as the unapologetically erotic and ruthless Kitty. Robinson breathes subtle, fragile humanity into Chris Cross while film noir super-heavy Dan Duryea, as Kitty's pimp boyfriend Johnny, skillfully molds "a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tin horn." (The New York Times). Packed with hairpin plot twists from screenwriter Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach) and "bristling with fine directorial touches and expert acting" (Time), Scarlet Street is a dark gem of film noir and golden age Hollywood filmmaking at its finest.
Kino Video's remastered edition of Scarlet Street finally does justice to one of the best film noir classics of the 1940s. Less than a year after scoring a critical and popular success with The Woman in the Window, director Fritz Lang reunited with stars Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea for this fatalistic New York City tale of a meek, middle-aged cashier and aspiring artist named Christopher Cross (Robinson) who unwittingly falls into a trap set by a pair of Greenwich Village con artists (Bennett, Duryea) who plot to sell his paintings and make off with the profits. In addition to Lang's masterful use of studio backlot locations and cinematographer Milton Krasner's exquisite control of light and shadow, the film draws its primary strength from the atypical performance by Robinson (typically so good at playing heavies, and a knowledgeable art collector off-screen) as a hen-pecked husband and self-professed failure whose withered ego makes him especially vulnerable to the false charms of Bennett, a femme fatale as heartless as she is ultimately doomed. Her scandalous behavior on screen and off (Bennett was the wife of producer Walter Wanger and Lang's mistress) and Duryea's pimpish amorality made Scarlet Street both immensely popular and scandalous enough to be banned in three states when the film was released in late 1945, but in Lang's dark vision of corrupted souls and avenging angels, nobody goes unpunished. The ending of Scarlet Street is as unforgiving as it is unforgettable, and in the hands of Fritz Lang, it's the purest essence of film noir at its finest. Kino's DVD release offers a high-definition digital transfer from a 35-millimeter negative preserved by the Library of Congress (in other words, it puts every previous video release to shame), and there's an astute, scholarly commentary by Lang expert David Kalat that puts Scarlet Street into critical perspective with Lang's career and film noir in general. For fans of the genre, this is a must-own DVD. --Jeff Shannon