When humble accountant Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) returns one rainy night from a party celebrating his 25th anniversary, he witnesses a woman being beaten by a man in the street. Cross rushes to the stranger’s aid and hits the man with his umbrella until he disappears. The woman introduces herself as Kitty March (Joan Bennett) and quickly captivates her rescuer. The two will meet again and again. To impress her, he pretends to be a successful painter, even though he has only ever painted privately. He is also prepared to go to extremes in other ways. As Cross falls more and more for her, he has no idea that she is playing a double game. In reality, she is dating Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea), the man who beat her that night…
Film noir classic
At the beginning of the 1930s, Fritz Lang had long been one of Europe’s great directors thanks to his monumental science fiction work Metropolis (1927) and the thriller M – A City Is Looking for a Murderer (1931). But his time in the USA, to which he emigrated after the National Socialists came to power, also produced important films. More precisely, he is often referred to as one of the co-founders of film noir. What is particularly interesting is a double that he shot directly one after the other. Both Dangerous Encounters (1944) and Street of Temptation (1945) are about an older man who falls in love with a younger woman and crosses boundaries in his desperation and passion. In fact, in both films the couple is played by Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett. And Dan Duryea also has a major role in both works.
But while in the previous work the crime happens relatively early, in Street of Temptation you have to wait a long time until it really escalates. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t criminal events here too. It becomes clear early on that Kitty and Johnny are in cahoots and see the good-natured Christopher as an easy victim. At the same time, Lang also talks about the couple’s fraudulent plans and the unsuspecting accountant who gets off the rails for a supposed love affair. Actually, he is already married. But while he is valued at work, that is hardly the case at home. Rather, his wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan) is a real dragon who makes his life difficult.
A street full of bad people
The reviews at the time were underwhelming, although people were sometimes bothered by a boring story and sometimes by the immoral characters. Both are understandable and yet don’t really do the film justice. There is no high tension like you see in other film noirs, where murder and manslaughter are involved or criminals have to be hunted down. And yet it is gripping to see how Cross, who has been so well-behaved until now, slips further and further and loses all sense of right and wrong in his increasing madness. This makes Street of Temptation a bitter film that doesn’t convey a particularly good image of humanity. Many characters are bad from the start. And even the protagonist, who always did everything right, becomes corrupted.
However, while the others are driven by their respective greed, for him it is love that makes everything happen. Or something he thinks is love. One can therefore argue about whether this is a crime thriller or more of a drama. At least some of what is happening here is very tragic, combined with a bitter irony. Especially towards the end, Street of Temptation, the origin of which was the novel La chienne by Georges de La Fouchardière, published in 1930, demands a lot from both the characters and the audience. You can then discuss a bit about justice and which punishments are appropriate for whom. But you can also simply be saddened by how a simple chance encounter ultimately drags several people into the abyss.
“Scarlet Street” is considered a great film noir title. And yet it is debatable whether this is a crime thriller or a drama. It takes a while for the story about a good accountant who falls in love with a con artist to really pick up speed. But it is all the more tragic how greed can drag people into the abyss and corrupt even a good man.