Slightly Scarlet (1956) Poster

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Dorothy is dotty!
MartinHafer28 March 2020
I am a trained psychotherapist, so when I watched "Slightly Scarlet", I saw things some others might not see. I mention this because one of the main characters, Dorothy (Arlene Dahl), is a psychological mess. She's a compulsive thief and a girl who craves excitement...all in the worst way. Today, she'd almost certainly be diagnosed with a Borderline Personality...meaning she possesses many qualities of a variety of personality disorders. Antisocial behavior, addictive behaviors and highly volatile mood swings...these are typical of such an individual...and Dorothy is very clearly dealing with these issues.

The film begins with Dorothy being released, yet again, from prison for shoplifting. Her enabling sister, June (Rhonda Fleming), tries her best to help Dorothy but it's clear Dorothy doesn't want saving....she's hell-bent on self destruction, good times and chasing men. Sadly, June is an idiot when it comes to Dorothy and she makes excuses for her wayward sister...and in many ways she enables and encourages Dorothy's actions. How far will all this go? And, how long will June put up with her sister's horrible behaviors? And, how long does Ben (John Payne) fit into all this?

This is a very exciting film that you'll either love or hate. Dorothy's behaviors and June's reactions to them can feel very frustrating....and I could see viewers hating BOTH sisters. But, if you can look past this, the film is fun to watch and worth your time. In some ways, it's like film noir...but the color cinematography make it hard to call it noir. Still, I enjoyed it despite its shortcomings.
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Nothing Slightly Scarlet about these two sisters
bkoganbing2 November 2005
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.
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Two Red Velvet Cheese Cakes with a Side Order of Political Scandal.
mark.waltz24 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The garish pastel colors in this mostly unexciting political crime expose overtake all of the melodrama of the two red-headed sisters (Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl) of differing personalities to make for a dull confection. The writer of "Double Indemnity", "Mildred Pierce" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (James Cain) wasn't as well represented on the screen here, and even with a promise of some delicious female bitchery, it is never delivered fully intact. We're supposed to believe that kleptomaniac Arlene Dahl is in her early 20's here, as a cop who follows her to sister Rhonda Fleming's house describes her to be from a description he got from a salesgirl who identified Dahl as the thief of some valuable pearls. She's already recently out of prison for similar crimes, and while it is obvious that she is mentally ill, she is never made to be an interesting psychotic case.

Poor Rhonda Fleming, too; Her character is so one-dimensionally goody two-shoes that you forget about her Maureen O'Hara like looks which in earlier films had her delightfully hot-tempered and feisty. Most of her scenes have her fretting over younger sister Dahl and bemoaning the circumstances which got Arlene in trouble in the first place. Today, we'd just call her an enabler, but here, she just seems stupidly naive and used. John Payne is the ruthless politician whom Fleming works for and Dahl sets out to seduce. The only really exciting scene comes when Dahl and Payne are obviously heading for a rendezvous when a hit man all of a sudden corners them in Payne's enormous ocean hilltopped "cottage" after Dahl has pulled the trigger "accidently" on a fishing spear she found on his wall.

The other real problem with the film is that it never sets its mood or where it wants to lay the conflict, with Dahl's "bad" sister (who is honestly just boring) or the political mayhem caused by Payne, his cohorts and many rivals. This makes the film sag throughout, and in spite of the colorful layout, it never really meets up with the melodramatic mood promised by its over-the-top musical score. This leads it to be one of the weaker "bad girl" movies made throughout the 50's, where at least a camp element would make it somewhat entertaining.
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Duplicitous Redheads.
rmax3048232 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I rather like the director, Allan Dwan, because he was a no-nonsense guy who was in the movie business from the beginning. Nothing pretentious or arty. Yet this movie sucks. It should open with some guy dressed in rags, tinkling a bell, chanting "B Feature." There's no sign of imagination and the story -- from James M. Cain -- is pedestrian. But then everything is dull, from the score to the photography.

Arlene Dahl is the bad girl. We know it at once because the camera cuts from a sign ("Woman's Prison") to Dahl being picked up at the gate by her equally red-haired and devoted sister, Rhonda Fleming. Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming. Two aces.

Dahl, without being the least angry, blames Fleming for not having enough money to get her out of jail for theft. Fleming is happy and solicitous. When they reach Fleming's home -- she's a secretary to a mayoral candidate in Bay City -- Dahl heads at once for the booze while the morally upright Fleming refuses a drink in the most polite manner.

You ought to see Fleming's house. She's a secretary but she lives in a grand estate that looks like it might have been an apartment set aside for Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. Every set looks just as opulent and tasteless. It doesn't matter whether it's a rich guy's house or somebody's office. It's as if they changed the shape of the room but just shifted the accouterments from one set to the next. Except for a few minutes the whole movie is shot on a sound stage.

Dwan shows no interest in the production. It's all functional and lapses into cliché at every opportunity. If Dahl wants to admire herself in the mirror, she looks into the mirror at an angle, so that she's not really seeing herself, only the camera lens.

There's a good guy and a bad guy. One of them (Ted de Corsia) is named Solly Kaspar. The other (Payne) is named Ben Grace. Guess which is the good guy and which is the bad guy.

The plot has the ambitious Payne taking over the politically influential gang of de Corsia. There is a conflict. The two red heads are dispensable, and both of them have about as much talent as you'd find in a community college play somewhere in Cranford, New Jersey. It's not just the actresses though; it's the roles as written. Fleming has unbelievable devotion to her unbalanced sister. Yes, the heart has its reasons that the mind will never know, but the reasons are stupid.

Watch it if you like, but it's not as carefully done as, say, any early episode of "Law & Order."
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Enjoyable Noir film blending romance , political corruption and focusing two sisters tangled with a gang leader
ma-cortes22 June 2019
Big-city chronicle dealing with mobsters , corruption , prohibited loves and many other things . Concerning a small-time gangster carries out an assignment from Mafia boss , Ted de Corsia, to smear a law-and-order político , Ken Taylor , running for Mayor . Then he falls in love with the candidate 's secretary , Rhonda Fleming , it leads the plot mucks up even further . Innocent Rhonda has a crook , tipsy and ex-con sister , Arlene Dahl . Later on , Payne attempts to go straight and ends up running the dark business when De Corsia escapes town. Gang leader Payne meeting his comeuppance when he tangles with Rhonda's sister , Arlene Dahl , a hazardous Kleptomaniac . Out of the shadows of a vice-ridden city comes James M Caín most explosive drama ¡ James M Caín scorchingly frank expose of the operators behind big city graft.

A spiffy , thrilling and medium budget Noir Film drama based on the James M Caín novel titled "Love's lovely counterfeit" .James M Cain wrote the prestigious "The postman always rings twice" that had several cinematic adaptations and "Slightly scarlet" script was well written by Robert Blees . Being an effective and provoking studio about mafia , corruption , political messes and thunderous love relationships . This is a smart example of Allan Dwan's 50 output , a good and fine director who made a lot of films , many of them belonging to Noir genre . Although the story results to be some confusing , as forget the twisted plot and just watch the character actors and actresses interplay .Trío protagonists give nice acting . John Payne is frankly well as a gang leader tangled with two beautiful women. Rhonda Fleming is gorgeous as the good girl falling for gang leader and his sister Arlene Dahl is wonderful . Both of whom , Fleming and Dahl , steal the show as the two dynamic sisters . Support cast is very good such as : Kent Taylor , Ted de Corsia , Buddy Baer , Lance Fuller , Ellen Corby and many others .

Colorful cinematography in Technicolor and SuperScope by John Alton , a magnificent cameraman who along with Nicolas Musuruca are the main creators in Noir photography .As well as atmospheric and evocative cinematography by Louis Forbes and uncredited Howard Jackson . The motion picture produced by Benedict Bogeaus was competently directed by Allan Dawn . Even Martin Scorsese incidentally has tipped his cap to this great filmmaker and acknowledge him as an important influence . Dwan had a prolific career directing all kinds of genres as Westerns , Noir , drama , thriller , adventure, such as : Three musketeers , Iron mask , Pearl of the South Pacific , Heidi , Enchanted Island , Escape to Burma , The Gorilla , Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm , Passion , Brewster's millions , Cattle Queen Montana , Tenesse partner , Sands of Iwo Jima , among others . Rating 7/10 . Notable and decent Noir movie .
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Color noir, courtesy of Dwan and Alton
blanche-227 September 2014
With redheads Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl starring in this, you just know "Slightly Scarlet" had to be in color. The male star is John Payne, the year is 1956, the director is Allen Dwan, and the great cinematographer John Alton.

Based on the novel Love's Lovely Counterfeit by James M. Cain, Fleming plays June, secretary to a mayoral candidate, Frank Jansen (Kent Taylor). We first see her picking up her sister Dorothy (Dahl) from prison - third time. Dorothy is apparently a kleptomaniac, though she also seems to be a nymphomaniac.

Ben Grace (Payne), who is associated with a city crime boss, has photographed June picking up her sister at the prison, hoping to sully the honest Jansen's campaign. But he falls for June and then tries to help Jansen defeat his opponent. But Ben is still playing both ends, and June and Dorothy are soon caught in the middle.

There are a couple of problems romantically, too -- one is, Jansen wants to marry June, who is in love with Ben; and Dorothy wants Ben too, however she can get him.

John Payne obviously saw himself as a tough guy. He couldn't get away from those Fox musicals fast enough. Here, about 10 years after his Fox tenure, he looks the worse for wear but does a good job. He loved this kind of role.

The gorgeous Fleming wears outfits that show off her assets and the film's vibrant colors. She does well. Less successful for me was Arlene Dahl, whose acting left something to be desired. Her character was somewhat annoying, and I think she was going for a kittenish quality that she missed. One scene made me chuckle. She goes to put on a bathing suit and returns with a completely different hairstyle. Gotta love those glamor days when you looked good no matter what.

Entertaining noir, with Alton's magnificent cinematography an added plus.
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50's Noir
dougdoepke27 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A crime boss gets mixed up with two red-headed sisters, one of whom steals for thrills.

Here B-movie material is given A-movie treatment in typical 50's style. Check out the candy-box colors, lavish interiors, and abundant sexual posturing that typify Hollywood's war on TV. Overall, the results can be called noir, but those results are a long way from the dour look of the classic 1940's.

It's still a pretty good flick. Payne makes an interestingly ambiguous lead, while Dahl gets to practice wanton sexuality from about every camera angle, leaving the lovely Fleming in the less flamboyant role of the sensible sister. Sorting out this odd triangle makes up the story's main thread.

But there's also the plot's criminal angle where Ben (Payne) takes over Solly's (de Corsia) big operation, and we wonder whether we should be rooting for a crime boss who also corrupts the cops. The story gets pretty complicated at times, while Ben's motives are sometimes pretty murky. To me, what really holds the movie together is June's (Fleming) genuine concern for her wacko sister's (Dahl) well-being. The two actresses really work that angle effectively.

The ending, however, borrows heavily from a similar ploy used in Kiss of Death (1947) and unfortunately is no more persuasive. Just how a guy can survive multiple gunshots at point blank range remains more than just a stretch. Here it's not clear, but judging from June's actions, Ben survives.

All in all, it's an interesting production, especially for viewers concerned with the trajectory of film noir in the TV challenged 1950's.

(In passing—I can't help noticing that the fine supporting actor Frank Gerstle {Chief Dietz} is left off the movie's credit list even though he has much more dialog and screen time than Buddy Baer {hoodlum} who is credited. That's probably because Baer's brother was heavyweight boxing champion, while Gerstle is merely one of those grunts who carry the movies on their back.)
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Chiseler's and Smouldering Redheads.
hitchcockthelegend13 April 2013
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
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LeonLouisRicci20 August 2021
Rhonda Fleming's Flaming Hair and Gorgeous Physique Dominate Her Scenes.

Arlene Dahl's Red-Hair Gets Dimmed by the Insanity and Full-Blown Nuttiness.

John Payne Scowls and Looks Constantly Frustrated.

At the Swirling Vortex that Surrounds as He goes Deeper and Deeper.

While Playing Both Ends of the Law Enforcement-Crime Angle.

First-Class Film-Noir Cinematographer John Alton has a Field-Day Transposing the Black & White Noir Sensibility to Technicolor.

It's one of those 50's Vibrant Wide-Screen Extravaganzas that Echo the Big is Better Mindset of the Celebratory, Decadent Display of the Eisenhower Era.

The Heavily Melodramatic Plot is Dense and Determined to be Complicated.

With Politics, Corruption, Crime-Gangs, Sexy Triangle (actually quadrangle) with Fleming Falling for Payne so Quick it may Cause Viewer Whip-Lash.

A Beautiful Piece of Cinema that Dazzles the Eye.

Not Usually Found in Crime Films, mostly in Epic Adventures.

So Noir Lovers and 1950's Pop-Culture Fans can Realize a Rare Treat from this Over-Baked, Sexy, Loony, Melodrama that has some Bite.

It Really is Quite the Sight.
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Entertaining if unremarkable crime drama...
AlsExGal18 October 2019
...with John Payne as an ambitious wheeler dealer working within a crime organization who manages to work his way to the top, while at the same time helping an honest politician running for mayor win that office. He then looks for favors.

Alan Dwan directed and John Alton photographed this production which some have labeled a Technicolor film noir. The cast is a good one. Aside from Payne, the film features Ted De Corsia as the head of the crime organization, Kent Taylor as the newly elected mayor and, in a stunning treat for the eyes, the only screen pairing of two of the most celebrated redheads of '50s films, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl.

Fleming is the secretary of the future mayor, living in a spacious home about half the size of an average castle and with a maid, to boot (some secretary!), and Dahl plays her sister, just released from prison, with a predilection towards kleptomania and men. Dahl's character is the more interesting of the two and the actress is effective in her role, bringing a flirtatious kittenish irresponsibility to many of her scenes. As the film progresses it becomes apparent that she suffers from a few mental health issues, as well.

But Rhonda - in tight shorts and a torpedo bra - competes with Dahl in her own special way, and I don't mean shorthand skills. Payne, perhaps a little overshadowed by the screen activity of the two lovely redheads, is still a credible tough guy, the film predictably leading up to his final confrontation with De Corsia and his mob.

Aside from the noteworthy contributions of Dahl and Fleming, Slightly Scarlet, based upon a novel by James M. Cain, may draw a bit of a surprise for some by the ambiguity of its ending.
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easier to enjoy than classify
christopher-underwood15 January 2014
A real curio, this is a most likable technicolor, late noir. Well almost. Based upon one of James M Cain's lesser works, this is unsurprisingly more a mixture of noir and melodrama. From the opening scenes the lush and brilliant colours of John Alton's cinematography, dazzle. The scenes in the baddies' lair are darker and there are some of the familiar dark shadows we rather expect to see in a noir but overall this is a full on shiny bright full colour extravaganza with noir elements. Arlene Dahl plays the kleptomaniac nymphomaniac and plays the part with some style and much overdrive. Difficulties with the censors at the time ensure there is nothing too explicit but nothing can stop young Arlene playing this to the hilt and her scene, legs akimbo on the settee as she attempts to seduce a hood she's never met has to be seen to be believed. Not really a gangster movie or a noir or a romance but something of all these and well worth catching and much easier to enjoy than classify.
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Sometimes almost campy and dramatic, but an awkward construction that strains
secondtake8 August 2014
Slightly Scarlet (1956)

A drippy Technicolor melodrama from the early widescreen era, with crossed purposes and crossed stars? Sounds like Douglas Sirk, yes, but this lacks the depth and dreamy romance (and loneliness) of his films, and the seeming irony. This is really a kind of late film noir, though the themes of that era are diffused so it ends up mostly a crime drama with emphasis on the emotional troubles of the leading women. It's interesting more than compelling, but it is interesting.

It's hard to say if this is a John Alton movie, or a James M. Cain movie. The leading women with their almost scarlet hair (in Technicolor, which was unusual for RKO), are certainly not what makes this movie float, though they try very hard. And it's not John Payne, the leading man who is his usual understated self.

I'll go with Alton, the cinematographer, who transfers with some success the film noir feeling to color. Maybe too literally. Sometimes the shadows on the walls are caricatures of the old days, references to noir but not purely ominous. (In this way the movie really is like a Sirk film, which seems to confess an end-of-Hollywood decadence.) But in all the film looks very good—the shots, the editing, the color coordination (thanks to Technicolor's advisors), and the sets, which are quite deliberately distracting. (In this sense, it's again not a noir where the shadows hide the details—details abound.)

The plot, which I seem to be avoiding, is a bit strained, and even a bit confusing, and this is Cain's doing, and the screenwriter's. It's not that you can't follow, but that you wonder what people's motivations are. Payne plays a lowly henchman of a crime boss running to be re-elected mayor, and he mostly digs up dirt on enemies (by spying with camera and tape recorder). Events turn quickly and he's, what? running the whole underground racket? Yes, but only after cleaning it up a bit. And so allegiances flip flop and his girlfriend (one of the sisters) doesn't seem to notice.

The sisters are the centerpiece in a way—one has just gotten out of jail and the other is trying to help her. But naturally the "bad" one can't stay out of trouble, small stuff. One thing leads to another, sort of, but it doesn't much matter. What does matter is their interaction, and the overacted and rather fun performance by the "bad" sister, played by Arlene Dahl. Revenge and a few gunshots and gasping last thoughts and you have it.

So watch this from above, as a kind of low-grade spectacle. It's so vivid and well- meant somehow you can't help be curious. And you won't stop watching, I think. But you'll end up wondering why exactly it got made. This is one RKO's last films, and it feels like a last gasp.
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Amazing cinematography and art direction in late noirish melodrama
robert-temple-125 October 2009
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.
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Technicolor for the Redheads!
bsmith555230 March 2020
Warning: Spoilers
"Slightly Scarlett" was a crime drama filmed in technicolor and wide screen to take advantage of the flaming red hair of both female leads, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl.

The film opens with Dorothy Lyons (Dahl) being paroled into the custody of her sister June (Fleming). Dorothy it seems is a kleptomaniac with sticky fingers. June attempts to care for her sister but Dorothy has her own ideas.

Ben Grace (John Payne) is an ambitious gangster working for boss Solly Casper (Ted De Corsia). They are interested in the upcoming civic election where reform candidate Frank Jensen (Kent Taylor) is the candidate running for mayor. Casper eliminates a journalist who has been berating the mob by tossing him out a window.

Ben becomes interested in June but Dorothy is suddenly arrested for shoplifting a string of pearls. June pleads for her sister citing that she has mental problems. Meanwhile Jensen is elected mayor and Grace suggests to June that his friend should be appointed Chief of Police. Solly, fearing a crackdown from the new administration, flees to Mexico.

Grace is left in charge during Solly's absence and takes advantage of it. He begins to live in Solly's homes enjoying his bosses wealthy surroundings. Dorothy makes a play for Grace but he rejects her wanting instead her sister June. June who is Mayor Jensen's "secretary" doesn't want to get involved with Grace. Then Solly returns unexpectedly from Mexico and.............................

Of the principals, Arlene Dahl steals the picture as the slightly mad femme fatale. The rest just go through the motions. Lance Fuller and the gigantic Buddy Baer play Solly Casper's men.

Would have been more effective if filmed in good old black and white.
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Film Noir in Colour
jromanbaker18 October 2020
In memory of Rhonda Fleming I watched this deliriously over the top film directed by the prolific director Allan Dwan, responsible for many cinematic gems. Arlene Dahl gives an excellent performance and Rhonda Fleming plays the ' good ' sister who looks after Dahl after she has come out of prison. The scenes between the two of them are electric, and quite frankly you can forget the male actors in the film. John Payne does his best as lead man but does not excel. The film is positive proof that given the right director Film Noir as a genre could be perfect in colour. There is quite a bit of nasty violence and the ending is truly exciting. Apart from ' Gun Glory ' with Stewart Granger that is equally good in the Western genre Fleming was in a lot of passable but not exceptional major roles. Her scenes in ' Out of the Past , ' Spellbound ' and ' The Spiral Staircase ' were powerful, but sadly she was not appreciated enough by the studios. I hope todays film buffs will seek her out and she was not only very beautiful, but immensely talented when given the chance. But her role in this film is exceptionally good.
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A hothouse flower from James M. Cain
bmacv14 May 2001
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.
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Pulp Fiction
If one wanted to define pulp Allan Dwan's 'Slightly Scarlet' probably would serve as an excellent epitome what movies are concerned. While watching I sometimes couldn't help but wonder how this would look on a printed page and in doing so I couldn't picture it on anything else but on cheap paper as part of a paperback novel with one of those typical, endlessly intriguing, vibrant artworks on the cover. Every character is pretty much defined by one goal and beyond that they have no self-doubts or really any past (unless maybe a scene calls for it). Characters are very much driven by the plot rather than the other way around. Just to name one more blatant out of about a thousand examples, a young car mechanic asks the male lead if he can borrow his undoubtedly expensive car to impress a girl. The two don't seem to be close (although such a thing is always difficult to tell in this film) but without batting an eye he throws over the car keys which, to me, really didn't seem like something this character would do, but knowing what kind of film I was dealing with I waited to see what they were setting up with this scene plot-wise. Sure enough only seconds later the young man starts the engine and the car explodes, this little out-of-character moment saved the leading man's life and it established that the bad guys are after him.

It's certainly melodramatic but not sentimental. The dialogues are alright and overall fun but given the potential they are relatively mundane, they don't have a real zing to them. The ongoings are pretty sleazy for a film made during the time of the Hays code, especially considering that the sleaze is mostly direct instead of being cleverly encoded in innuendo like many of the great films of that time did that dealt with sexual material. The performances are all pretty reasonable not to say almost restrained considering the material, only Dorothy actress Arlene Dahl fully embraces the opportunity and has visible fun with her licentious character without being overbearing.

Visually it's unspectacular (especially compared to many of cinematographer John Alton's other works) but nevertheless pleasant-looking especially due to the extensive use of shadows even though it's in flaming Technicolor so the effect is very different compared to the one of movies with much more genre-typical high-contrasted B&W photography. The shadows are decidedly more expressive in the scenes with baddie Solly Caspar (I like that name) and his gang of thugs which use low angle lighting that casts big shadows while scenes with the women of course use high angles for the key light that make the actresses' hair glow to give them the conventional glamor look. The SuperScope (2.00:1 AR) is rather well used and the set design with its choice of color palette does its part in giving the film its flaming look, special mention goes to the fact that both leading ladies have red hair, not exactly a common sight.

Editing is sloppy, Allan Dwan's film usually uses dissolves between sequences and especially in the first half it often seemed like the scene wasn't really played out yet with characters sometimes even being seen continuing to talk to each other (without sound) while the picture fades out. The film overall lacks much flow with sometimes long and sometimes oddly short scenes crammed in for exposition purposes, some of which I thought weren't even needed at all. 'Slightly Scarlet' certainly isn't emotionally engaging let alone clever but somehow I never ran risk of losing interest. I didn't find the content dramatically noir-ish, just extremely pulpy, and despite expressive lighting the color and the widescreen make this even visually an atypical inclusion in the film noir cannon (at least TSPDT consider it to be a film noir). I actually think that it must have been quite a crowd-pleaser with female audiences given that the female characters are neither your average submissive 50's Hollywood housewives nor typical femme fatales since they are fairly independent and philandering but never condemned for it by the film or male characters not to mention the movie's final outcome...
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Totally dumb
rhoda-915 April 2020
"Slightly" scarlet is hardly the case, what with Rhonda Fleming as the good sister and Arlene Dahl as the bad one, both with flaming-red hair, the brightest color in every scene. Both go for John Payne, but he understandably prefers Fleming, who is only dull, to Dahl, a psychopathic nympho who gives a ludicrously inept performance. She's like a hyper-active teenager doing what she thinks is sexy, wriggling and jiggling and pouting and bouncing, though she's got far less to work with than Fleming, whose enormous bosom, in a Fifties nose-cone brassiere, nearly puts a man's eyes out when she suddenly stands up.

Payne is, as always likable, but too much so for a part in which he is supposed to be a hardened criminal. He was the least convincing of the musical stars and light comedians of the Thirties and Forties who later turned to film noir. Nor is the plot any great shakes--Payne ousts a gang boss and takes over his mob until the boss heads back to town. Though the mob leader has to disappear overnight, Payne somehow has no trouble gaining access to his money and getting all his employees to fall into line.

Throughout the picture, which takes place mainly in three houses, the players seem lost in the wall-to-wall acreage, with living rooms the size of Madison Square Garden. The cars are absurdly big too, gas guzzlers half a block long that dwarf the driver and passengers.

All in all, not the greatest showcase for the charm and taste of the Fifties.
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Hard Boiled, Mondo-Bizarro and Slightly Awesome
secragt1 May 2003
First, let's be straight: this is a deliriously entertaining, venal and vampy exercise in melodrama. It's a ridiculous movie with a nonsensical script, awesome crazy quilt radioactive light bright technicolor and at times laughably non-motivated behavior. But it's also a tongue-in-cheek anti-noir mini masterpiece crammed with over dramatized scene chewing and pleasingly unintentional laughs. The set designs feature some of the biggest house interiors ever (how does Rhonda Fleming afford that mansion on her secretarial salary??) Arlene Dahl is a deliciously cheesy home run as the sex object du jour and gives Martha "The Big Sleep" Vickers a run for her money in the slutty and criminally irredeemable little sister department. Everyone is working some angle here (particularly John Payne), which is both intriguing and finally just dizzying. Fleming, Dahl, Payne and Kent Taylor take a love triangle and turn it into a quadralateral with little trouble. This isn't the calculated and sleek Double Indemnity James M. Cain, but it sure has the smoulder and desperation of The Postman Always Ring Twice JMC.

There's a political campaign thrown in and a big gangster (huffy and puffy Ted De Corsia) subplot for good measure, but this is ultimately a celebration of the campiest aspects of melodrama and what a party they throw! Definitely a date movie and highly entertaining for all the right reasons. If you can see it in the theatre, you may go blind from the glowingly phosphorescent crimson hues. "Slightly" Scarlet my ass!
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Over The Top Color Noir
mgtbltp14 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
WOW! here a an unexpected diamond in the rough, a color Noir that slightly surpasses "Niagara" shot in Superscope, that has got a David Lynch feel to it.

This Noir is not listed in Spencer Selby's "Dark City - The Film Noir." Its definitely off the radar.

First, the film has a weird juxtaposition of color, light & shadow. Its this Lynchesque look that is sort of indescribable, unless you've seen it, the the set designer, flamingly went overboard, (even in the extremely noirish segments) and filled the screen with a pallet of colors, its like "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" meets "Blue Velvet, except where Blue Velvet and Niagara used color, the colors were somewhat muted, in this film they basically run riot. The film even recalls somewhat the pallet of Warren Beatty's comic book film "Dick Tracy".

Second, Rhonda Fleming and Allene Dahl playing two gorgeous, smoldering, redhead sisters one "good" the other BAD. I say "good" because Fleming is June, obviously the mistress/secretary of the reformer mayoral candidate living quite lavishly in a perfect "Leave It To Beaver" suburbia with kept woman undertones. Dahl plays over the top kid sister Dorothy just of of prison for a kleptomania relapse, she's also a bit of a nymphomaniac but one excusable flaw in the screenplay is that this is not hinted at sooner. It's supposedly a big improvement over Cain's novel where the Dorothy character is almost an afterthought. For the film I can understand that for the fifties the revelation of her tendencies must have been quite extraordinary, but looking back through the prism of time, realistically she should have been shown more open about it, as it is, its hinted at symbolically, i.e. in one scene Dahl flicks a lighter on under the palm of Payne's hand in another she brandishes a spear-gun. There is even a scene with huge phallic banister in the background while the sisters fight over Payne.

Regardless both actresses are stunning in their beauty and provide quite a bit of eye candy throughout the film and you wonder how each will upstage the other next. Another plus, their costumes, their body language, and the backdrops provide a living pulp fiction magazine/paperback book cover shot extravaganza.

Fleming has a sequence in bed where she is wearing the flimsiest nightgown flashing her ample breasts for at least a full minute. Dahl wins though, there is a sequence where she is laying on a couch hidden by its back where she is using a back scratcher on her spread legs, and probably something else. The camera reverses its angle and we see her spread-eagled on the couch dripping for John Payne but when it turns out to be Ted De Corsia who sees the blatant display show she doesn't bat an eye lash. How did that get past the Hays Code, lol.

Third, Payne and De Corsia wonderfully reprise (for me anyway, since I've seen their other outings first) some of their rolls in other Noir films so they bring that cinematic memory factor into their characters, some of De Corsia's lines recall William Conrad's in "The Killers", all in all giving that slipping into a comfortable pair of old shoes feel to the film which adds to the mix making Slightly Scarlet what it is.

If this film has one major weakness its the score which is a bit too bland. The DVD (rented from Netflix) has some nice special features, a good commentary by writer and James M. Cain enthusiast Max Collins, a James M. Cain bio, a collection of stills from the film, and trailers from other James M. Cain based films. 9/10
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Slightly GREAT
spelvini26 September 2006
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 joke.

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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Slightly Beige
SweetWilliam638 August 2016
A great movie for those of you who still believe the "Mad Men" series was an exaggeration of the times (it wasn't) or if you have a fetish for redheads; otherwise, this 1956 detective pic is spoiled by 1950's sensibilities with it's clean, vibrant production and very white cast. It skirts around grittier issues but the story is more soap opera then film noir. The lead is a fixer of sorts (think 'Ray Donovan' but in a Botany 500 suit) and driven by his own selfish interests. Is he just a crook or an anti-hero worth rooting for? Two cleavage driven sisters (one good, one bad) help you decide. It's tricky and the acting is strong enough that you might want to sit through the whole thing to find out. But then again maybe not. The great Helen Hayes plays a house maid.
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Redheads and Rackets
SonOfMoog31 January 2004
"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.
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confused whirlpool of high camp
jaguar-418 December 1998
Two red-headed sisters, wild colors everywhere (?), no nonsense gangster pol lets himself be dragged around by the manic nympho sister (he dates the busty mature book-on-her-head walkin' sister). Camp, would do well restaged by a drag group (if it hasn't been already) except that I don't think too many people know the original. Arlene DAHL was never like this! No filmic nympho is quite as fruity as she. It's a rare sister vs. sister pre Baby Jane. It's a scream-with-laughter surprise of a film -- please watch it with a bunch of friends. It has been shown on AMC; don't know if it's on tape.
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A interesting film noir--in color
ny1mwd2628 July 2004
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.
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