This has never been one of my favorites of the film noir canon. However, given the chance to watch it again on TCM, I’ll grant you the movie hits all the right noirish notes.
Our anti-hero is named (interestingly) Christopher Cross. Chris Cross. Hmm. Suggests someone trying to pull the old switcheroo, which he kinda does, but I don’t want to
reveal spoilers talk about that.
Edward G. Robinson plays an
absolute wretch easy-going clerk who handles money for some company or other (is he an accountant? I guess), whose home life is simply hell. His wife is a constant and loud nag, who I would have gladly slugged ages ago and he’s an artist at heart. His paintings are, I guess, “raw” or “primitive” or words to that effect, because he paints what he feels and he lacks perspective. Or at least, his paintings do. (Right, it’s a metaphor. Yeah, yeah, yeah.)
Okay, we have an unhappily married, sensitive artist who works as an accountant (maybe) and gets a gold pocket watch out of the deal. He has a steady job, if not a great home life. One that appears to be known to at least one other man he works with. And there’s this whole conversation they have when the Missus is out of the room. It reveals so much, including: 1) the notion of marriage as a trap for the unwary and 2) the idea that domestic abuse (particularly of men) is just tolerated with a kind of odd bemusement.
Anyway, as Chris walks home after the party where he gets the gold watch, he intervenes when it appears that a random woman he crosses paths with seems to be attacked by a random man. And, after Chris plays White Knight to this “lady,” one thing leads to another as they do in these movies, and it’s next stop, Seduction City.
They exchange a bit of small talk that amounts to this:
Let’s see. You live in Greenwich Village, right? You must be an artist.
Yeah. Sure. Right.
(eyes his gold pocket watch)
Art is so expensive. You get paid a lot for your paintings?
Oh, no. Not really. No.
Well, you have that nice … never mind. Want to get a drink?
Okay, so one thing leads to another and his nagging shrew of a wife wants him to move his stinking paintings out of their apartment, because he’s stinking up the place with them. So, imagine his joy at being able to set up a … whatta ya call it? … A bachelor pad? A crib? A pied-à-terre? … Whatever it is, he’s setting it up for himself and the woman he’s come to love. Her name is Kitty, BTW, (played by Joan Bennett, BTW) and she comes (to use a worn cliche) with claws.
But Kitty doesn’t even begin to like Chris. In fact, she finds him repulsive, but is totally in love with the man who was slapping her around when Chris entered the scenario. At first, I figured he was a pimp and she was a
whore street walker. I suspect that was implied, but I don’t really know. Anyway, this man named Johnny (and played by Dan Duryea) keeps lurking in the background, much to Chris’s dismay.
I won’t tell you what happens. But all sorts of switcheroos take place. And there’s a murder, eventually. And it looks like our anti-hero will come out of it unscathed. But he is most definitely scathed.
Also, this is basically
a Bizarro World an alternate version of The Woman in the Window, in which the plot’s turned inside out (and possibly reversed). The same three actors named above are in both.
It’s ending is a complete reversal of The Woman in Window. It’s everything you’d expect from noir: everyone gets screwed in the end.
I’d add a half-star, if someone had gagged that annoying wife of his. Or, at least, told her to STFU.
This trailer reveals major spoilers, IMHO.
* * *
Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Walter Wanger and Fritz Lang
Screenplay by Dudley Nichols (based on the novel and play Le Chienne by Georges de La Fouchardière (novel) and André Mouézy-Éon (play))