La Chienne (1931): Darker than Scarlet Street

La Chienne (1931)

A sensitive mild-mannered clerk who likes to paint despite the shrewish laments of his wife that he is wasting time and her money, falls for a conniving prostitute and when it all comes unstuck, takes to a life on the streets like a duck to water. Liberated from bourgeois respectability he is in the final scene gleeful in his perdition, and indifferent to an otherwise salutary reminder of his fall shown careening away in a swank motor car.

Jean Renoir’s second film starring that colossus of French cinema Michel Simon, fashions a dark tale where humour as much as human frailty and baseness figures prominently. The pimp who exploits both the harlot and the mark is not so much a shiftless parasite more a totally amoral being.

The film is a savage satire infinitely darker than Fritz Lang’s (certainly respectable) Hollywood remake Scarlet Street (1945), where melodrama and Hollywood inhibitions dictated a more angst-ridden dénouement.

As the narrator of the canny puppet show framing says at the beginning of La Chienne, there is no moral to the story.

 

3 thoughts on “La Chienne (1931): Darker than Scarlet Street”

  1. Thrilled to see a new post up here Tony, especially one that features this too-often neglected classic from early in Renoir’s career. For me it is a near-masterpiece, and a greater film than the Fritz Lang re-make SCARLET STREET. Yes it is very dark, and Michel Simon that iconic French thespian with a one of the greatest of acting resumes gave an extraordinary performance here. The role Michel Simon plays here is very much in the Emil Jennings mode. I am not so sure that I would say this is “darker” than the Lang, mainly because there wasn’t an ounce of relief in that later film, while here in the Renoir there are some lighter passages. But I can certainly see how either position is wholly defensible. Wonderful capsule here on a film all cineastes should see at some point. Essential for a number of reasons.

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  2. Thanks Sam. I have been lazy and struggled to get even this short piece up 😉 I see it as darker than Scarlet Street largely because Simon has no remorse, while Edward G. was tortured by it. A matter of perspective, but perhaps I have pushed the distinction too far.

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