“How can a man be so dumb?”
A middle-aged accountant (Edward G. Robinson) henpecked by his wife (Rosalind Ivan) falls for a beautiful prostitute (Joan Bennett) whose pimp boyfriend (Dan Duryea) convinces her to con Robinson into renting her a studio apartment. Soon Bennett is pawning Robinson’s amateur paintings as her own, with unexpected consequences.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Fritz Lang’s American noir version of Jean Renoir’s La Chienne (1931) is a rare remake which succeeds entirely on its own merits; indeed, Peary nominates it as one of the Best Films of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book. As in Renoir’s film, the male protagonist — in this case, a perfectly cast Edward G. Robinson — is “the weakling husband of a domineering nag” who “forces him to paint, his dearest hobby, in the bathroom”, and whose life is changed irrevocably by his chance encounter with a duplicitous femme fatale. Peary notes that “Robinson is such a pathetic man that some viewers find no enjoyment from this film”, which “delves into [Lang’s] familiar serious themes — a man falls for a femme fatale and falls into fate’s trap, everyone becomes his enemy, an innocent man is convicted of a crime, and the startling ending is unbearably cruel” — but he argues that “scriptwriter Dudley Nichols regarded the piece as a comedy, with ironic twists, witty dialogue…, and a pathetic, wimpy character who somehow turns the tables on everyone”. Indeed, Robinson’s henpecked, boring life is so dismal before he meets Bennett that it’s difficult to feel too bad about the events that eventually transpire — especially given that he finally experiences romantic pleasure (however false) for the first time, and finds his artwork (his true passion) validated by critics. Plus, as Peary notes, Robinson’s effect on everyone he knows — including Bennett, Duryea, and Ivan — involves “either ruining their lives or ending them”, so nobody emerges unscathed in this world of masochists and manipulators.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Edward G. Robinson — nominated by Peary as Best Actor of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book — as Chris Cross (what a name!)
- Joan Bennett — who Peary awards an Alternate Oscar as Best Actress of the Year — as Kitty
- Dan Duryea as Johnny
- Milton Krasner’s noir-ish cinematography
Yes, as one of Lang’s minor masterpieces.