>"1. The characters were schematic, simplistic, and over the top. The only actor who created a reasonable character was Edward G. Robinson."
A few of things about this.
First, I'm not sure why you found Chris Cross any more believable than the other characters. To me, he seems to be an all-too-perfect mark for Kitty and Johnny. He's a sentimental sap who's totally oblivious to what people actually think of him, and he's just about the most henpecked husband I've ever seen in a movie. Now, I still care about him, because I can see aspects of him in myself (and in other people I know)--even if he displays those aspects in a pure, or extreme, form that doesn't seem especially plausible. But that's because he's an important and evocative type of character (his idealized characteristics say something important about facets of all of our characters), and not because he's well-rounded or believable.
Second, the simplicity of the characters is something that I enjoy about Lang's movies. I tend to think of them as something like philosophical thought experiments: he's simplifying the people and their relations to such an extent because it makes everything crystal clear. (I think Andrew Sarris compares Lang's movies to fables at some point, and I guess that gets at a similar idea.) It allows us to get to the emotional and intellectual point of it all more directly. I think this adds potency, and not simply clarity. And I guess I don't see how making Johnny less sociopathic, or Kitty more affectionate towards Chris, or Chris's wife less of a shrew would add to the film in any way; it just seems that it would muddy the water unnecessarily.
Now, you might think the simplicity of the characters detracts from the film's plausibility--but I don't think the film is really going for realism. While the film plays realistically for most of its running time, I think it turns into a full-blow nightmare by the end. (And I think this is reflected in the visual style of the film, which is fairly anonymous before turning into an expressionist horror show in the final couple of reels.) The indignities and cruel ironies in Chris's life just end up piling to an implausible degree--and that's the source of a lot of the movie's power.
Third, I think the simplicity of the characters also contributes to a lot of the film's humor, which, on my way of looking at this movie, is crucial to what it's doing. I think the first hour or so of this movie is filled with genuinely funny, albeit exceptionally dark and nasty, black humor. I laugh a lot during this movie, and quite a bit that laughter is directed at Chris--which I'm sure is intentional. There are times when Lang seems clearly to be expecting us to take a sort of pleasure in the way Kitty and Johnny play with Chris, and to laugh along with them at his naivete. And I doubt I'd laugh as much if the characters weren't presented as exaggerated caricatures of human beings. If they seemed slightly more well-rounded, the awfulness of their behavior and the sadness of their lives would be too painful to laugh about.
And I don't think the humor in Scarlet Street is there simply to make the movie more pleasurable--though, without that humor, this might well be an unbearably grim movie. I feel like our laughing at Chris, and the way those around him openly disrespect and manipulate him, is vitally important to the impact of the end of the film--because it's Chris's realization that the people around him see him as a joke that precipitates his slipping into violence and madness. And we, the audience, have been laughing right along with those who see him as a joke; we're culpable on some level, too. (And how can we ignore the nagging worry that maybe--just maybe--the people around us see us as ridiculous in the same way that we've seen Chris as ridiculous throughout the movie?)
I dunno, compared to many other classic era Hollywood movies, I found the acting mostly fairly understated. Sure, the Duryea guy was quite one-dimensionally scummy the same as - apparently - in all of his roles and Robinson´s wife a crude caricature of domestic evil (her original husband, when he appeared, may have been the worst though because he constituted the moment when Robinson´s mishap reached the point of ultimate ham fisted overkill), but Robinson and Bennett were quite stellar.
"facts are stupid things" - Ronald Reagan
Second, the simplicity of the characters is something that I enjoy about Lang's movies. I tend to think of them as something like philosophical thought experiments: he's simplifying the people and their relations to such an extent because it makes everything crystal clear. (I think Andrew Sarris compares Lang's movies to fables at some point, and I guess that gets at a similar idea.) It allows us to get to the emotional and intellectual point of it all more directly.
How is this different from a traditional morality play? I think the main problem with Lang's American movies is that they just aren't that special and all the earnest film students in the world can't convince me otherwise.
Can't say; I'm not a film student.
Thats a really excellent post wvq2.