Scarlet Street


Film noir may be a French coinage but it’s a mode with echt German roots. Half the key directors of Hollywood noir were Third Reich refugees and half the noir prototypes were rehearsed in the German silent cinema. Asphalt (1929), a late silent directed by the talented hack Joe May, is a quintessential tale of a dumb but honest police officer led disastrously astray by an urban shady lady. The wonderful title evokes the whole “street” obsession of Weimar movies—the vast UFA set on which it was shot is virtually a city in itself. Stealing from Metropolis and Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, May tricks out the drama out with some prismatic Berlin montage. Gustav Fröhlich, who plays the luckless traffic cop, was the young hero of Metropolis; I don’t know where May found Betty Amann, the posh sultry flapper who, busted by Fröhlich for stealing jewels, literally overpowers him with the force of her sex appeal. This is a passionate movie, sensationally lit, and excellently transferred.