Friday, August 10, 2012

Film Pairing — Fritz Lang, Two With Edward G.

I confess what I’m recommending as a double feature is more of a comparison study than anything else.  They are remarkably, perhaps inexplicably alike. Director Fritz Lang made The Woman in the Window in 1944 and Scarlet Street in 1945.  Both films starred Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett as well featuring the great B-movie regular and scene-stealer Dan Duryea in a major supporting role.  

I’d like to say that’s where the similarities end.  But no.  Both are set in New York.  Oil paintings, portraits of Bennett’s character, are in gallery windows in both films and are significant in advancing the plot.  In both films, Robinson is an innocent guy, Bennett has questionable morals, and Duryea is a villain.  There are some subtle differences in character, but it’s almost the same movie.  Usually, of course, that’s not good. However, in the case of these two films, the fun comes from watching them back-to-back to note the nuances.

My favorite is The Woman in the Window, by far.  A small part of that choice, I confess, is the quality of the two discs.  Lang’s movies are noted for its stylish, noirish cinematography.  And both had Milton R. Krasner behind the camera.  Mission accomplished. However, Scarlet Street suffered from blurry reproduction.  That was, as I said, a small part.  Scarlet Street was also a little too melodramatic for my taste.  Robinson was a little too innocent.  Bennett was a little too evil.  And final scenes, while more in keeping with noir sensibility, were a bit too much.  It’s not easy acting crazy on screen. One tends to overdo it. The film is based in the French novel, La Chienne by Georges de La Fouchardiere. It had also been a stage play and a 1931 film directed by the legendary Jean Renoir.

The Woman in the Window seems a bit more real. The situation is believable.  There is a misunderstanding.  A man is accidentally killed in a fight that should have ended with wounded pride.  And, an otherwise decent college professor makes one fateful mistake. He tries to cover it up and the descent into hell begins. The characters have depth.  Raymond Massey also appears in this film based on Once Off Guard by J. H. Wallis.

I’d recommend watching The Woman in the Window second because it is a better movie. I think it is safe to say the critics at the time would agree to that assessment. To accompany the evening, select your favorite hard liquor and drink it as straight as you can.

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