A contemporary of D.W. Griffith, Canadian-born Allan Dwan directed a staggering four hundred films over fifty years. Made in the director’s final years, Slightly Scarlet transfers the shadowy aesthetic of film noir into eye-popping Technicolor, demonstrating that the genre’s moody and expressionistic visual style could transcend film stock. In fictional Bay City, John Payne is a hoodlum tasked to take down a reform candidate. But he ends up pining for Arlene Dahl, the politician’s secretary whose fiery, kleptomaniac sister (Rhonda Fleming) has just been released from prison. An adaptation of the James M. Cain novel Love’s Lovely Counterfeit, Dwan’s film may have been made on a tight budget but the baroque art direction of Van Nest Polglase (Citizen Kane, Top Hat) and fervid Superscope compositions by cinematographer John Alton (The Big Combo, Reign of Terror, Raw Deal) make Slightly Scarlet a singular viewing experience. Ranked fifth—above Bresson, Rossellini, and Cukor—in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1956 year-end list for Cahiers du Cinéma, it awaits rediscovery.
Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive