"Men of our years have no business playing around with any adventure that they can avoid."Fritz Lang
's 1944 Film Noir
, one of the first films
to be so called. Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson), a married, middle-aged psychology professor whose wife and children are away for the summer, falls in lust with a provocative portrait of a young woman. One evening the portrait's model, a budding Femme Fatale
named Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), catches him ogling it and invites him up to her apartment. The two are interrupted by her boyfriend, who tries to strangle Richard, and Richard kills him in self defense. Now the two must try to quietly dispose of the body to avoid scandal, but are hampered by their lack of trust for each other. Complications include Richard's friend, a district attorney who investigates the man's disappearance, and a third party scheming to blackmail them both.
See also Scarlet Street
, the Spiritual Successor
to this film, made one year later with the same director and same cast and a similar story.
This movie contains examples of:
- All Just a Dream: A textbook version. The whole plot is a dream of Richard's. Yes, even the many scenes he's not in. This ending was controversial at the time and has remained so ever since. Many sources say that Lang filmed this ending to conform to The Hays Code, but Lang insisted that the ending was his idea. It's worth noting that the Hays Code really wouldn't have required such an ending, as Richard punishes himself. When Lang made Scarlet Street the next year as a Spiritual Successor to this film, he didn't allow such an escape for Robinson's character.
- Blackmail: Unbeknownst to the conspirators, the murdered man had a bodyguard...an ex-cop who was fired for blackmailing.
- But You Were There, and You, and You: After waking up, Richard recognizes two acquaintances as the victim and the blackmailer.
- The Cameo: That's George "Spanky" McFarland from The Little Rascals as the Boy Scout in the newsreel who talks about finding the body.
- Driven to Suicide: Richard, when he thinks he's about to be caught.
- Fanservice: An extraordinary example for a movie released in 1944. Alice takes Richard home and takes off her wrap, revealing that she is wearing a see-through blouse underneath. Joan Bennett spends the next 20 minutes or so of the movie quasi-topless, with her breasts visible in every closeup. In 1944.
- Femme Fatale: Alice, the title character.
- Film Noir
- I Never Said It Was Poison: Richard makes this error repeatedly when discussing the case.
- Love Before First Sight: Apparently, this is how Alice likes to meet men. She lurks near where her portrait is visible through a shop window, and listens for the Wolf Whistle.
- The Mistress: Alice is the kept woman of a man she knows as "Howard", although that isn't his real name.
- Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Done in full view of the poisoner.
- Practical Effects: For the scene where Richard wakes up, Lang did not use any dissolve or other kind of cut. Instead, this was done by focusing in tightly on Edward G. Robinson's face, while the tearaway clothes he was wearing were pulled off and the set behind him was changed, all in a matter of seconds.
- Pygmalion Plot: The general concept is alluded to. As Richard stares at the portrait, suddenly the real woman appears, reflected in the window, as though the painting had come alive.
- Sarcastic Confession: Richard, repeatedly.
- Smoky Gentlemen's Club: Richard and his buddies like to hang out in one.
- Tampering with Food and Drink: Alice puts poison in Heidt's drink, but he catches on to her idea and doesn't drink it.
- Thunder Equals Downpour: Hear thunder, cue immediate downpour outside Alice's apartment building.
- A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: The adultery and the killing are regrettable, but it's the suicide that makes it a true tragedy; if Richard had just waited a little longer, he would have discovered it to be unnecessary.