In the old days, a man had to prove to the girl’s father that he was able to keep her in the style to which she was accustomed. Basically, a marriage was a transaction between the father and the prospective husband.
A man had to be settled before he could marry, resulting in an age gap between bride and bridegroom – in a way, she could be said to get a new father. This of course was not the case in the proletariat, and as the proletarianization of society progressed, there became something faintly ridiculous about a middle-aged man’s infatuation with a younger woman.
Wouldn’t she much prefer another child to play with, rather than being dominated by a father figure? Of course, she would!
In time, both sexes accepted this state of affairs. Edward G. Robinson would never presume to chastise Joan Bennett, whom he worships, and so she will have to make do with being beaten up by Dan Duryea instead.
It’s a strange triangle indeed. A young woman means trouble.
Robinson is implicated in a murder (of the older man, who is her lover). They are then blackmailed by Duryea, while Raymond Massey is closing in on them in a more official capacity.
Fortunately, Danny – for no reason at all – decides to commit suicide by police, Joan racing to Edward to tell him that they are now in the clear, Raymond having convinced himself that the young man is the killer (although none of the carefully assembled evidence fits this new suspect). Sounds silly?
Wait till you see the ending! Not surprisingly, the director decided to remake the movie as SCARLET STREET (1945) which made slightly more sense.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” said Thoreau, and some of the best movies have been made about quiet, desperate men. Chris Cross (Christ’s cross) certainly falls under that description.
Aging and caught in an extremely inconvenient marriage of convenience, he has never experienced the love of a young woman, even as a young man. When he accidentally meets Kitty, after having sucker-punched her pimp, he simply cannot let go.
Joan Bennett may not qualify as a seductress, but she’s a pretty young thing, her tawdry exterior hiding, if not a heart of gold, then at least a childlike disposition, manifesting itself in her schoolgirl crush on her no-good associate. Chris gives her everything, even allowing her to take credit for his paintings, well-aware that they would be of considerably less interest to the public, if they were signed by a middle-aged man.
Cross has been assigned his cross and his place in life, his gold-watch and pat on the back after a lifetime of faithful service. Only, he is no longer playing along.
He even enjoys a small triumph, before it all comes crashing down, and even then he skillfully uses his obvious insignificance to avoid paying the price for an uncharacteristic act of crime of passion. It matters little that Hollywood conventions demand, at the very least, accusing spectral voices.
The loser remains a loser. But at least he loses with rage and dignity.