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|Index||22 reviews in total|
James M. Cain's first Hollywood fusillade went off in the mid-1940s, with Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice, all adapted from his books, helping to set the tone and the parameters for the noir cycle just getting up steam. In the mid-50s, he had a second wind, with Serenade and, from Love's Lovely Counterfeit, Allen Dwan's Slightly Scarlet. While not one of Cain's better works or one of the better movies made from them, it has its ample fascinations. Legendary noir director of photography John Alton works in color here, and startlingly enlivens his customary dark trapezoids with bursts of lime green, flame orange and orchid. (The rare films noirs done in color seem even more decadent: see Leave Her to Heaven and Desert Fury). John Payne reprises his solid, sullen self as a fence-straddling minor mobster who sees his chance to take control of the machine in a mid-sized midwestern city. His twin carrot-topped temptations are sisters Rhonda Fleming, as the mayor's gal Friday, and Arlene Dahl, who has just been released from prison -- she's a loony, man-devouring klepto (and Dahl does her proud. There's even a scene when Fleming finds the message "Goodbye Sister" scrawled in lipstick on her bedroom mirror). Too bad there was a lot of (unnecessary) rewriting of Cain's story; the ending is sourly ambiguous. But this is late noir in garish overdrive, and movies aren't much more fun than that.
"You're not good; you're not bad. You're a chiseler, out for anything
you can get."
So, says Solly Kaspar, crime boss of Bay City, of Ben Grace, the anti-hero of this story, adapted from James M. Cain's Love's Lovely Counterfeit. What holds our interest in this story is we're never quite sure what to make of Grace.
There's an upcoming election and crime boss Kasper does not want the reform candidate to win, so Kasper strongarms the newspaper publisher backing him, and in the process kills him.
Grace exposes Kasper, forcing Solly to flee to Mexico, and insuring the election of Frank Jansen, the reform candidate. He uses his influence with Jansen to get an honest police lieutenant friend of his appointed Chief of Police.
Good guy, right?
Then later in this movie he's seen giving orders to Solly's men, going over Solly's books, and positioning himself as Solly's successor. He calls his friend,the chief of police, and demands that his girlfriend's sister who was recently arrested be released without being charged, and so we begin to believe we've misjudged ol' Ben. He's just a hood, a little brighter than most, a little smoother than most, but in the end, no different from Solly Kasper.
Bad guy, right?
Well, we're not sure, because Grace isn't sure. Reform mayoral candidate, soon to be mayor, Frank Jansen has an assistant, June Lyons. On a 1 to 10 scale, Ms. Lyons, with her flaming red hair, and blazing headlights (think Good Girl art) is an 11. Rhonda Fleming never looked better, and Arlene Dahl as her sister, Dorothy Lyons, was equally stunning. But, back to Grace. He is falling for June, and June is a thoroughly decent girl, whose better nature seems to affect him.
In the end, however, Grace's schemes come to naught. Jansen who really is a reform candidate orders Dorothy be tried for her crimes. Solly Kasper returns wanting to take over as rackets boss, and Ben Grace is forced to run. Here's where we see his true character, when he scrounges as much of Solly's money as he can and invites his girlfriend to go on the run with him (she declines).
Solly Kasper was right all along. He really is just a chiseler, out for whatever he can get. Major disappointment, as in the end, Ben Grace disappoints not just his girlfriend, but the audience as well.
This is a beautifully photographed movie in full technicolor. The sets are a wonderful amalgam of art deco - rococo excess. Others here have pointed out how garish everything looked. I didn't find it so. I thought it was beautiful. Certainly, the eye candy was stunning. There aren't any two actresses today who could team as good girl - bad girl siblings the way Fleming and Dahl did. Maybe Julianne Moore and Debra Messing, but they wouldn't look as good. The movie's high marks for visual style are undermined by its low marks for aimless, meandering story. 6 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With the same title. You might think Slightly Scarlet is about Ben
Grace: did he change or not? Then again you might think the movie is
about June Lyons: did SHE change or not?
If the movie's about June Lyons, the ending isn't ambiguous, and Ben Grace is a hero in more ways than one. And yes, she changed, and definitely for the better.
June's been in what we now lovingly call a co-dependent relationship --with her sister. Crazy Dorothy needs professional help, and June's been trying all her adult life to help her, successful only in being manipulated by Dorothy's psychotic reasoning. June keeps trying to do the impossible: make Dorothy's life better. Dorothy's a prop (a McGuffin, except we know a lot about her) She moves the plot. She's the agent of Ben's meeting and falling in love with June, and the cause of his becoming a hero. She's always at the wrong place at the right time. Dorothy shows us Ben's true attraction to the good sister through his rejection of her, even at her most seductive in a bathing suit. Dorothy claims she and Ben are alike. Ben shows they're not by his attraction to June. Even when Arlene Dahl steals a scene, as she sometimes does, her Dorothy reminds us of June's worries, June's hopes. We see Ben sinking into villainy, except in his relationship to June and Dorothy, which remains consistent and sincere throughout.
June's unable to have a relationship with a man because of Dorothy. June, so loyal, so caring, so worried, doesn't have time even for the man she loves, although that man needs her more than Dorothy does. Dorothy, remember, needs a psychiatrist, not a worried sister.
And so, as gorgeous June moves closer and closer toward a hideous spinsterhood devoted to the care of semi-conscious Dorothy, events take a turn for the worse AND for the better. Ben undergoes horrible torture to save June and Dorothy. He's still alive at the end, but we don't know certainly that he'll survive. We do know, in that last glance June gives Janson who's patting Dorothy reassuringly, that June's chosen her man over her sister. June smiles back at Janson and Dorothy (and Janson smiles knowingly at June), as June walks away behind the stretcher. There's someone who needs her and can benefit from her care, someone with a legitimate claim on her love and attention, and June follows him. June has been steadfast in her ethics, although her attention was misguided. We know if Ben lives, she'll help him. If he doesn't live, she's freed herself from her bondage to Dorothy.
This engrossing film has a lot of action, both physical and psychological. It's easy to watch but not simple. Oooh, that magnetic energy (great direction) between Ben and June. They can barely keep their faces apart in any interaction. Ben tries to be bad, but isn't making it. In the end he succumbs fully to love. A hero because he not only saves the women's lives, but also because he's rescued June from Dorothy. Could there be such a thing as a noir, chick flick? I think so.
Any story by James M. Cain should automatically command one's attention. Though probably not as famous as his other stories, this one manages to hold the viewer's interest. A curious thing to me is that, once again, the male lead is playing a far from sympathetic character (Ben). John Payne does a good good job, though sometimes it is not easy to figure out what Ben is up to or why. The success of the film rests upon the performance of the two female leads, Rhonda Fleiming and Arlene Dahl, especially the latter, whose acting was way beyond what I expected and almost carries the film, the ending of which might be a bit surprising. A tad slow in spots, 'Slightly Scarlet' nevertheless is a pretty entertaining film.
Anyone remotely interested in cinematography and art direction should see this. John Alton, chiefly famous for his work in black and white, here switches to livid colour and achieves some of the most daring and moody effects ever known in colour films. This was a decade before 'flashing' the film became popular (a technique developed by Freddie Young, who told me all about it at the time he began the trend, with Lumet's 'Deadly Affair'). Everything here is so vivid, and the games played with colour in choice of sofas, walls, carpets, not to mention hair, are so intense, that the film is really chiefly of interest for all of that. Alton had to work only with variations in lighting, not with film processing possibilities. What he did is incredibly audacious, worth watching over and over just to study it. He has whole figures in shadow, and faces often are eclipsed by darkness in a bright room. It is really an incredibly dazzling display of virtuosity and genius. The two lead gals have matching hair, which plays well on the sets. Rhonda Fleming was a notorious strawberry blonde, and although I seem to recall that Arlene Dahl was really a normal blonde and presumably had her hair died to match Fleming's for this film, here they are very like the sisters they play indeed, with matching peachy hair and bright blue eyes. It is all a symphony of light and dark and colour combinations, like a modernist painting. The story is tepid, diluted from a James Cain novel about city corruption and crime. Arlene Dahl is not very convincing as a kleptomaniac siren who is supposed to be deeply psychologically disturbed (that part only comes out at the end, though we know about the thefts from the beginning, as the film begins with her coming out of prison). Rhonda Fleming swings her hefty bust around with confidence, and glares with her blue eyes at people as she challenges them, which with her fiery nature she does a lot. Into this mix comes a very seedy character played by John Payne, who by this time was really getting a little too old for such roles, nice fellow though he was. However, a sufficiently noirish tale ensues which is worth watching, though it is not a proper film noir, but merely has certain elements of that left, as the mid-1950s were asserting themselves, and people were getting more interested in Debbie Reynolds and Doris Day, and the War was a fading memory, and even the Korean War was passé by this time. Yes, things were changing, people were getting cheerier and more bourgeois by the minute, and gloom was no longer so popular, or must be relegated to horror films instead. Time to lighten up! So this is an interesting historical curiosity, a lingering shadow cast over the smiling face of a complacent Middle America which was just settling down to a nice long afternoon nap which would last until the sixties.
This movie showed Rhonda Fleming in a subdued part as a secretary to a town
politico. She's one of my favorite actresses from the 50's, and was one of
the most beautiful ever to grace the screen. John Payne was lucky enough to
have a couple romantic scenes with her.
Back in the 50's, kissing scenes were far more romantic and tantalizing than today. Wish I could have bottled Rhonda Fleming!
Slightly Scarlet is directed by Allan Dwan and adapted to screenplay by
Robert Blees from the novel Love's Lovely Counterfeit written by James
M. Cain. It stars John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, Arlene Dahl, Kent Taylor
and Ted de Corsa. A Technicolor/SuperScope production, music is scored
by Louis Forbes and cinematography by John Alton.
June Lyons (Fleming) is "secretary" to anti-crime campaigner Frank Jansen (Taylor), so with Jansen in the running for mayor, mob boss Solly Caspar (Corsa) looks for a way to smear Jansen. The chance arises by way of June's sister, Dorothy (Dahl), a Kleptomaniac just released from prison. So Caspar puts his main man on the case, Ben Grace (Payne), but bossing Grace around and then putting him in the middle of two fire- cracker sisters could prove detrimental to all.
The story is altered from Cain's source and in truth what reads like a tricky plot, actually isn't all that it can be. Yet it's a feverish Technicolor noir, proof positive that in the right photographic/director hands, noir can thrive away from the monochrome.
It plays out its tale in a whirl of simmering passions and wonderfully lurid suggestions, sparkled by eye scorching photography and a deliriously devilish production design. Psychological smarts are in the mix, with no easy answers put forward to character's outcomes, while in true noir fashion all principal characters are hard to like or are intriguingly flawed.
John Alton is the key hand here, he brings rich colours to the fore whilst ensuring that light and shadow techniques are not compromised. Macho conversations are spun out in darkened rooms, the colour black prominent, foreboding like, while the home of the two flame haired sisters is adorned with purposely garish blues, reds, oranges and greens.
Clothes are important to the sexuality pulsing in the piece. The girls dressed up in a number of fetching (colourful obviously) ensembles, with wide V necked sweaters, figure hugging skirts, bullet bras, leopard skin bikini and see-thru nighties! While a couple of phallic symbols form part of the art design just in case you need reminding that sex is a big issue here.
Suggestive scenes are within, usually involving Dorothy who mixes Kleptomania with an obvious kink for Nymphomania. Watch how she strokes a pillow in the background as her sister engages Ben in heated conversation, how she looks as she holds a Harpoon Spear Gun in her hands (in that leopard skin bikini), or a quite delicious sequence on a couch, legs akimbo and a back scratcher used to tantalising effect. Wow!
It has flaws for sure, mind. The Kleptomania/Nymphomania angle is not fully explored (ineviatbly for the period), Corsa barely convinces as the head villain, Forbes is not sure how to score it! And there are missed opportunities unbound as regards triangles involving Ben, June and Frank and also Ben, June and Dorothy. But this is still a delightful Technicolor noir, lush, lurid and deftly sordid. 8/10
A tale of two redheaded sisters. Good Sister Rhonda Fleming who is the
secretary/girlfriend of reform Mayoral candidate Kent Taylor. Bad
sister is Arlene Dahl who's a combination nymphomaniac/kleptomaniac who
has a yen for everything in trousers.
The girls' performances are good, but wasted in this muddled mess of a noir film. Muddled mostly by the ill defined role that John Payne has. He's a wheeler dealer publicity agent who works the fringes of both sides of the law.
Gangster Ted DeCorsia slaps Payne around and humiliates him at the beginning of the film. Payne decides to get some vengeance more out of pique than anything else. Pique is not a motive to get the viewer interested in Payne's manoeuvrings. John Payne has played unsympathetic parts and played them well. But in Slightly Scarlet you just don't develop any rooting interest in him even though Ted DeCorsia is one nasty villain.
The girls are good, especially Dahl. Probably one of the most amoral women put on screen, very much like Martha Vickers in The Big Sleep.
Too bad a really great group of players didn't get a better story.
I tried to make this short but there is a lot to be said about this
very interesting tail-of-the-cycle noirish yarn. It may seem that I
discount this film as nothing more than an conceptual experiment gone
awry. The use of color photography is so far misplaced it actually
folds back onto the film like some Einsteinien cosmic quilt and
provides a surrealism that in some ways compliments the noir attitude.
However interesting that may be, it really is about as far as the
overly saturated color gets in terms of complimenting the overall film.
I have made some effort to find out if Alton actually felt that
Slightly Scarlet should have been filmed in color or not and have found
nothing readily available that says either way. I'm inclined to
fantasize that in pre-production sessions there were gun blazing
arguments about how the color would enhance or distract from the effect
of the story and I can only imagine that Alton must have been virtually
My first comment that this is noirish, not film noir, is not solely because of the color but because the film lacks too many of the classical tenets of film noir to be considered anything more than an urban crime drama. Only with respect to the Ben Grace character and his seemingly chameleon ability to go with the flow does it provide the moral ambiguity that is inherent in all films noir. Make no mistake, he is a very nasty fellow. All other character moralities are easily discerned as good-guy bad-guy; that includes Dorothy who is what she is because of a psychological illness and not because of decisive moral indiscretion.
There are some terrific noir moments while watching Solly and his henchmen strong-arm their way into city government which leaves no doubt that these guys are gonna burn in hell. But that is not enough for me to toss the accolade of film noir. The narrative, while very watchable and with enough twists to keep interest high, does not allow fate to intervene as it does so fluidly in films like Out of the Past and Double Indemnity. Don't misunderstand, if your looking to watch a film noir and you have seen all the heralded classics, this is not a waste of your time. It is a notable film and deserves far more recognition than it gets. I give it 4 outta 5 stars.
Of course a theatrical screening at the Egyptian in Hollywood would be the preferred venue but on DVD we have full control of the color guns on our video sets. Fortunately with the DVD we can have our cake and eat it too. I strongly suggest that you view this film at least twice before you make any decisions about its quality. Watch it in its intended colorscape then watch again in B&W. First in point, it is one of only a handful of films by Alton that is available on DVD in anamorphic wide screen. That alone is important and contributes to the overall luscious appearance of this DVD release. Secondly, after viewing the film in its yes very garish color, you can enjoy an almost entirely different film by turning the color off on your set and reviewing simply for the classic Altonesque photography. You will be amazed at the contrast in the overall feeling of the film. Not just because it is B&W but more so because of the mise en scene and deep focus that makes film noir so interesting. So as to film noir or not film noir, that is a consideration I'll leave to individual viewers and their own interpretations. I doubt it will be argued by anyone that the cinematography by Alton - when viewed in B&W - is anything but glorious noir at its zenith and well worth the time spent to view twice.
The 1956 film "Slightly Scarlet" at first glance looking back from our
sophisticated perspective today seems to be a bit of a tongue-in cheek
Directed by Allan Dwan from a Robert Blees screenplay adapted from James M. Cain's novel "Love's Lovely Counterfeit", the 99-minute film is a great combination of color and art direction in a film noir.
Not a highly regarded film noir, in Technicolor and Superscope its palette utilizes a wide range of color to support the individual themes and characterizations.
Our main characters have color scheme that establish them and develop with the story.
Arlene Dahl as Dorothy wears black as she is released from prison and even sports a black bathing suit later in the film.
Rhonda Flemming as June initially appears in Spring-like colors of off-white and yellow, with colors matching her mood as the film progresses. She wears white and blues when she meets Ben Grace for the first time, then black and off-white when they kiss and she begins to fall in love with him. When Dorothy is arrested Rhonda wears a grey sweater and skirt but by the end of the film June wears the same black color as Dorothy emphasizing her relationship to her bad sister.
Although the pivotal action of the film rests on Ben Grace, it is through June that we understand the important elements of the story, and the value of good and bad in this noir world as well as our own.
A study in duality, it falls short by not delivering what it promises but only shifts the pivotal actions onto the male character in the film.
In more than one scene characters tell Ben Grace that he is taking advantage of the situations around him to unfair terms.
Police man Dietz (Frank Gerstle), who Grace gets put into a high-ranking position accuses Ben of playing both ends toward the middle.
A great line from Sole Caspar to Ben Grace sums up his character completely: "Genius you're just a chiseler out for a soft spot. You're not crooked and you're not straight. You take what you can get where you can get it but you don't want any trouble. You'll die at age 66 with three grand in the bank but you'll never be an operator." Looking back its moments of plot change create humor because of the style of acting and the overall writing in the script.
But there is still ample example of real noir elements despite the color of the film.
The title suggests the slightly scarlet is a pun on the pure heart of the lead female as measured against the overall 'sick' nature of her sister, the one who steals.
The quality of the motivation to steal of the second female lead as compared against the organized mob activities of the lead crook is an interesting one. There is the opportunity foe the woman to become the girlfriend of the mob boss, and she seems perfectly matched for the role.
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