For a brief period of time, four of Hollywood’s biggest stars got together and formed one of the most constantly overlooked partnerships in movie history. Between 1944 and 1945, Fritz Lang, Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson and Dan Dureya made two films together, Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945). To me, these two films always go hand-in-hand. I can never help but compare them to one another and I can’t even think of one without thinking of the other.
Woman in the Window is an interesting one. The ‘mid-life crisis’ theme that can often be found in film noir – Pitfall (1948) comes to mind – is certainly one of the best starting points in films of the genre. A man is bored with his life, his marriage and himself and he seeks some excitement elsewhere. After that, his life takes a turn for the worse. Perfect. In Woman in the Window, that man is Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) a professor who, after meeting up with his friends in his club, goes outside to look at a painting of a woman in a shop window. He meets Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), the woman in the painting, and the two of them go for a drink. Later, back in her place, Alice’s lover Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft) breaks in and starts fighting with Richard, who ends up killing him. With a murder to cover up and a body to dispose of, Richard and Alice soon make a plan and decide to pretend nothing ever happened. However, Mazard’s bodyguard Heidt (Dan Dureya) knows what happened and starts blackmailing Alice. Things get worse…
I love the fact that Woman in the Window is pretty much a stereotypical film noir, with all the elements there and in the right place, yet somehow it feels different. It’s kind of quiet and almost soothing. Apart from two or three scenes, everything is quite calm, and I really like that. I suppose its tongue-in-cheek ending might have something to do with it, who knows, I just find that interesting.
Scarlet Street, on the other hand… boy, is it dark! Edward G. Robinson plays Chris Cross (and that’s not even the best name in the film), a cashier who, after attending a dinner thrown in his honor, walks home through Greenwich Village and spots Kitty March (Joan Bennett) being attacked by a man. He runs to her rescue and the two of them go to a restaurant nearby. They start talking about art and Kitty wrongly assumes he’s a famous painter. After that, she and her boyfriend Johnny Prince (best name in the film), played by Dan Duryea, start working up a scheme to extort money from Chris. After that, things start going really wrong…
Scarlet Street is just an unrelenting spiral descent into madness. And it is unafraid. It gives you a pitiful leading man, a lazy layabout femme fatale and Dan Dureya, the caddest cad that ever cadded, and on top of that, it gives you nothing to comfort you. Has there ever been a sadder ending to a film noir? I’m talking genuinely sad, not ‘dark but had it coming’ sad. It’s quite impressive.
I love the fact that they are so similar and yet so different. They both have quite similar themes, they start more or less the same way, but they go down such drastically different paths. It almost feels like Woman in the Window is the antidote to Scarlet Street. Although I think Scarlet Street might be the better movie of the two – it is actually the remake of a Renoir film called La Chiene (1931), so maybe that’s another Double Bill?
Lang, Bennett, Robinson and Dureya were simply a great foursome. I kind of feel cheated that they didn’t make more movies together, but these two make up for that.