Friday, June 3, 2011

Edward G. Robinson dons an apron!

The odd sight of one of Hollywood's great gangsters wearing an apron and washing dishes for his nagging wife comes in the noir Scarlet Street, which is airing tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM ET on TCM.

Admit it: you know you'd paint her nailsRobinson plays Christopher Cross (no relation to the guy who did the Arthur theme), a cashier for a small company, who has been working the same job for 25 years, and look where it's gotten him. He's got a cramped apartment and a wife who henpecks him. (She really does make him do the dishes and wear an apron while doing it!) After a banquet in his honor for the 25 years of service, he stops off at a local dive bar, where he meets Kitty (Joan Bennett), a pretty young thing. He likes to paint but is strictly an amateur, and when he tells her he likes to paint, she mistakes it for his being a famous artist whose paintings sell for thousands of dollars apiece. She's got ambitions of getting to Hollywood, so she immediately sees dollar signs in his eyes, and wants some of that money, which she things she can get with the help of her shifty boyfriend Johnny (Dan Duryea).

Christopher doesn't like Johnny as he sees what a jerk Johnny is, so Kitty passes Johnny off as her sister's (Margaret Lindsay) boyfriend. That's all the more convenient in that it will allow Kitty to lead Christopher on and think she loves him; something all the easier for getting the money out of him. Now, if Christopher were smart, he would have told the truth at the beginning; namely that he's just an amateur and doesn't have the money. But he saw a dame! And with the wife he's got he'd be more than willing to spend some time away from her. So he has to embezzle the money from work.

Of course, in a movie like this, you know things are going to go from bad to worse. Christopher never signs his lousy artworks, so Kitty does on a lark, and Johnny takes it to a street vendor, who sells the painting to a critic who puts it in a gallery. This causes all sorts of problems. First, the Missus thinks Christopher is just copying a great artist; second, there's no way he can ever get money for selling his paitings. The story ends up a bit more complicated, but let's just point out that one character ends up dead and surprisingly, unlike what you'd think the Production Code would dictate, the person responsible for the death doesn't wind up in prison. However, the way the movie ends obviously must have pleased the Code enforcers or else the movie wouldn't have gotten released. I think it will please you too.

Edward G. Robinson never received an Oscar nomination, implying that somebody in Hollywood didn't appreciate him enough. In fact, Robinson is a really good actor who had a surprisingly broad range, handling gangster films, comedies (although to be fair he did play gangsters in several comedies like A Slight Case of Murder), straight drama like Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, and both sides of noir: the perfectly clean guy in Double Indemnity, and the good guy with the dark side here.

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