Slightly Scarlet

Arlene Dahl in Slightly Scarlet (dir. Allan Dwan, 1956).

Rhonda Fleming.

Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl.

John Payne.

John Payne's wrist.

Has there been any noticeable correction to the gross underratedness of this film since the release of the 2002 VCI DVD, with its excellent commentary by Max Allan Collins? I hope so. It's almost unthinkable to compete with the great triumvirate of James M. Cain adaptations: Wilder's Double Indemnity, Garnett's The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Curtiz's Mildred Pierce. Allan Dwan's Slightly Scarlet is not quite up to their level--not, at any rate, as an organically realized, unified work of cinema. Taken as a collection of parts that never quite add up to an intelligible sum, however, it's dazzling.

There are fine performances from the three leads and Ted de Corsia, but the real star is John Alton's widescreen technicolor cinematography. I don't know if there's another movie anything like this in the period: it's as if Douglas Sirk had directed a noir. (After I typed that, I thought, wait--did he ever direct a noir? and on IMDB I find the 1949 title Shockproof, with Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight, sadly unavailable on DVD as yet.)

Collins wonders in the commentary why they chose the title Slightly Scarlet (Cain's novel was called Love's Lovely Counterfeit). Duh. Just look at that chromatic palette! Red hair, red lips, red blood, red clothes, red air. The real question is, why "slightly"?

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