Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Log 255: I meet an old friend, a movie line I have always regarded as the essence of sleaze since I first heard it in 1945

Cropped screenshot of Dan Duryea from the trai...Image via Wikipedia Dan Duryea in the film Scarlet street

One of my sons, Thom, who is a walking encyclopedia of the movies, has this remarkable gift of being able to quote hundreds of lines he remembers from movies. I have never been able to do that, but I do remember a lot about various actors and actresses I saw when I was a kid. One of these, an actor who for me typified the essence of sleaze, was the actor Dan Duryea.

And the particular scene of his which has stuck in my mind was in a long-forgotten movie in which he was playing as the lover of Joan Bennett, playing a sultry temptress who was no better than she should be. At one climactic moment Bennett says “If I had any sense, I’d leave you.”

To which Duryea responds by slapping her across the face, back and forth and emitting the immortal line, “But you haven’t got any sense, see?”

Or at least, that is my memory of the line. But what do you know, just tonight on Turner Classic Movies I am watching a drama in which another of my childhood favorites Edward G. Robinson plays a meek, foolish little man , long married to a nagging wife, who makes an acquaintance with a lady of the streets played by Joan Bennett, and becomes totally infatuated with her. The man from whom he was rescuing her when he first ran across her was played by Dan Duryea, but as her friendship with Edward G developed she pretended Duryea was her roommate’s boy-friend.

Robinson was a part-time painter: to get away from his wife’s nagging, and to establish his relationship with Bennett, he hires an apartment and moves his paintings into it. Robinson starts to steal from the firm to which he has given 25 years of impeccable service, to pay for Bennett’s constant demands for money. Duryea persuades Bennett she should sign the paintings and pretend she was their creator. They become an instant success, but naturally, the idyll is over when the little man hears his inamorata tell Duryea she really loves him. Subsequently she tells Edward G. that he is a pathetic little creep whom no woman could love, and in a fury he stabs her to death.

It is in the runup to this that I heard that line I had carried around with me since the 1940s, the line that exemplified the essence of movie sleaze. But now I have to report my memory was slightly faulty. The line is as I remembered it, except that it does not conclude with the emphatic “see!….” But you don’t have any sense,” was all. Not quite as effective, I have to confess, as my line.

Naturally, to please the movie censors, although it was Dan Duryea’s character who swung for the murder, Edward G.’s conscience would not let him alone, and the movie ends with him as a bum dragging himself through the streets of New York with his lady friend’s voice insistently declaring her love for the other man.

Afterwards Robert Osborne said the film was rejected by the New York censors when first released because of the excessive violence of the stabbing. But the kerfuffle about it created such attention that when it finally was cleared for release in September 1945 the movie drew huge crowds everywhere it showed.

The name of the movie is Scarlet Street, an obvious attempt to impregnate it with a sense of shocking sin.

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