Looking into the film noir void: Lang’s Scarlet Street (1945).

Wess Haubrich
6 min readJun 13, 2018
Edward G. Robinson opposite Joan Bennett in SCARLET STREET (1945).

Scarlet Street is one of the blackest films noir in pretty much any film fan’s canon (yes, even by 1945 standards and the puritanical rules made up by our old friends at the Hays Production Code office). It is a tale of con artistry, the theft of artistic ideas (literally), jealousy, grifting, domestic rot, unrequited love, murder, and the theme I will touch on more than others in this brief analysis: a tormented conscience. It is a remake (yes, a remake) executed by one the finest artistic exports to the United States from Europe, director Fritz Lang. It is BLACK as the deepest psychological tar pits of despair can get. The film stars Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea.

Director Fritz Lang was a film-maker who simply oozed artistic acumen. He is easily among my Top 5 favorite directors of all time. Lang got his start directing in The Weimar Republic, with silent films like the mythological Destiny (1921) which can be watched on Netflix, the futuristic Metropolis(1927) which can also be watched on Netflix, and even a treatment of Wagner in Siegfried (1924), and Kriemhild’s Revenge (1924). Lang was even asked to direct that powerhouse of German Expressionism on film: The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1919) before Robert Wiene took on the project. See a public domain print of Caligari below.

M (1931) still accentuating the shadow of the child murderer (Peter Lorre), a technique that would be elaborated on at the height of classic film noir in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s.

Lang’s most important (and arguably brilliant) cinematic achievement was his first talking picture, another dark as pitch study of madness, urban alienation, and social fear, a film based upon the real-life “Vampire of Duesseldorf”, a serial child murderer named Peter Kuerten: 1931’s M. M is a film that makes my Top 10 list for MANY reasons and also did much to found “film noir” as an aesthetic style.

As the wake of Nazism swept over Europe before the Second World War, many German intellectuals and artists fled their homelands for the United…

--

--

Wess Haubrich

Horror, crime, noir with a distinctly southwestern tinge. Staff writer, former contributing editor; occultist; anthropologist of symbols.