Just finished Scarlet Street after making a threesome from the aforementioned "M" and La Bete Humaine...not being much of a "tweeter" I am posting here for the first time. All were such a treat and completely new to me (imagine!) so thank you to TCM and Canvas for this opportunity as it was an evening well spent!
While I realize this is a noir study with some meaningful unifying features I cant help but feel strongly the separation by culture and history, particularly due to the spread of years from these pre WWII era European films and this later american trope. I found the historical value of these earlier works by Franz and Renoir particularly absorbing and while both may have merely meant to instill strong, street personas, they also captured details of daily life that add a piquant value over time.
"M" was positively gripping for many reasons and I am quite sure, once I hop off my pop-corn cloud and do some reading, I will find much relating to Germany and its times within the themes of this film. In and of itself, however, and great thanks to its main players including the remarkable Franz and incomparable Lorre, this film is rare and takes you in and in until nothing else is happening. And its been awhile, sadly, that I have felt this in cinema. Innocence-experience, compulsion-calculation, dark-light. Whether a jolly balloon weightless and straining to fly or a child's body defaced in an unknown and dark tomb, this has all the weight and ascendancy you can imagine. Lorre's final scene has an agony in it you will rarely see again. As a start, this entire series has very big gumshoes to fill following this remarkable classic!
La Bete Humaine puts you in the engineers seat. I don't think a film has ever conveyed locomotives to me in the visceral way this film has and with the powerful trance and direction it gives its main character, helping him to literally remain on track. While I could do without the film score, which felt ill-placed here and the occasional side-by-side cheek smash (with facial-specified lighting) of our intrepid couple, this is a story that you want to see unfold despite the obvious. You want to take up the mantle of Jean Gabin, our anti-hero. He understands pain and suffering, he knows the truth of things and still he loves, as if, as a broken man, he needs a broken woman. Simone Simon is our bad girl who knows she is (how French!)...both perpetrator and victim. French film for me lives in a kind of pre-conscious dream-like place. It seems like there are lots of metaphors and meaningful elements I am supposed to see that give it this murky darkness and a general lack of answers which I suppose I am being asked to come to conclusion about on my own. I'm not sure I ever get there put appreciate the unsettled feeling! While not as captivating as "M", this was a treat despite its sadness and confusion and I will not forget the beauty of watching our hero driving his train with deftness and focus.
Scarlet Street felt more like type though it has a stellar cast and was beautifully crafted. Having seen the other two first, by comparison there is an awful lot of talking going on! This was a very busy film verbally and in one or two places tiresome for me because it seems to miss the existential weight of the others, the beauty of emptiness, of vision and sound not about people. Perhaps the fault is mine for watching it last though this was the order provided in the schedule. But through this shines Edward G Robinson, as he is apt to do, elevating this story with his brightness as the innocent foil meandering into (and sometime through) the clutches of the criminal intellect. The ending feels unintended (perhaps not the original outcome) and part of the fun of this film (as a first-time viewer) is that it feels it could go in many directions because his character's lack of awareness gives the story the possibility it needs to remain buoyant. On a side note, I realize these were the "good ol days" and our dame "Kitty" gets the lion's share of smacks. I wonder if these scenes in particular were the reason it was banned in a few states when it was originally released. A lot of violent focus on her throughout actually. Thank goodness we have another view of a "smart" and sassy roomie "Millie" who knows the score and refuses to enjoy the company of the likes of "Johnny".
Lastly I want to mention the use of humor in these films, which was an unexpected treat--and added to a range of mood that I appreciated. It was almost as if their creators wanted to step aside and demonstrate that you need light to create shadow. Wry humor was not something I thought I would see in any of these and yet, there it was.
This is merely a short description and I am very much interested in anyone else's comparison and/or contrast of these three. Thank you in advance for your comments!