Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
France, 1931. Les Établissements Braunberger-Richebé. Screenplay by Jean Renoir, based on the novel by Georges de la Fouchardiere. Cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl. Produced by Pierre Braunberger, Roger Richebé. Production Design by Marcel Courmes. Film Editing by Denise Batcheff, Pal Fejos.
Jean Renoir’s first masterpiece and the first widely-seen proof of his genius for handling a complicated narrative while giving depth and sympathy to all his characters. Similar to The Blue Angel, it charts the downfall of a mild-mannered office employee (played by Michel Simon) who becomes obsessed with a streetwalking sex worker whom he saves one night from her violent boyfriend/pimp. He sets her up in an apartment and continues their affair, at home ignoring his shrewish wife and creating gorgeous paintings that he gives to his lady love, not realizing that she and her guy are selling them at high profits. A skillfully written and directed film, Renoir presents without judgment the inevitable primal emotions that override our intellectual notions when our desires become too much for us. Even the object of his affection isn’t condemned by the narrator even though she is destroyed by that narrative, the audience is kept at a cold reserve from her fate as well as Simon’s eventual outcome. The American remake, Scarlet Street by Fritz Lang, is also good but places its focus more on film noir consequences than Renoir’s helpless fascination with the conflict between humanity’s intellectual and animal natures, and the chaos of the caprice occurs within both.