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.