Starring John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, Arlene Dahl, Ted de Corsia; dir: Allan Dwan
More than slightly
Theres a delirious insanity to Slightly Scarlet which seems only partially intentional, and partially a function of its Home Beautiful-on-acid consumerist context. Based on his 1942 novel Loves Lovely Counterfeit, the films plot is amply summed up by James M.Cain himself: "I fell in love with the idea of a mans stealing a town by controlling a girl who controlled the mayor." (Shades of Hammetts Red Harvest!)
Integrating sleaze with soap, Scarlet captures very faithfully the Cain ethos of shifting moralities in a fluid, sordid universe where the polarities of good/evil dont even figure. Its a hungry, venal environment which at least rings truer than the usual Hollywood four-square fantasies. Its 50s Technicolor lushness has the artificiality of a Written On The Wind or A Star Is Born (Mason/Garland version), brought down to earth by the low key noir lighting youd expect of veteran Mann/Lewis cinematographer John Alton. Who takes calls in their office in near darkness? Who cares, we love it!
Interesting parallels emerge from the lead roles. The Old Boss (Ted de Corsia) has a sour saturnine countenance identical to the persona which veteran tough guy Robert Ryan brought to his autumnal turn in 1973s The Outfit (playing a similar role), while New Boss John Payne is so Kevin Spacey its spooky.
Slightly Scarlet is an unusually sexy rendition for its time too, with both female leads radiating heat by the Playtex bucketfull. Despite some longeurs in the middle and Dwans indifferent direction, theres enough energy and laffs here to keep you interested. And shades of Mildred Pierce another Cain flick with a beachhouse climactic scene?!?
- Roger Westcombe