The old adage that nice guys finish last has rarely been acknowledged in popular film or song. Entertainment reflects an idealized worldview, and the things which women profess in their rational daily states reflect ideals which don’t factor into the irrational state of passion. Simply put, safe and practical ‘nice guys’ don’t invoke the nature of passion that dark and edgy ‘bad boys’ do. Only since the close of the 20th century – when men’s esteem coach F.J. Shark observed how “nice guys are always on the shopping lists when going into the social marketplace, but they’re never in the shopping carts when coming out” (1) – have lifestyle experts admitted that women do indeed prefer bad boys. Yet a film released back at the close of the Second World War defied public delusions, albeit ominously.
In Fritz Lang’s 1945 film noir Scarlet Street, the meek, middle-aged Christopher Cross summons his inner-White Knight upon seeing a young woman, Kitty, enscuffled below a streetlight. While becoming acquainted, he swiftly falls for her, only to be swindled, for Kitty is not the angel that Christopher envisioned. Yet he grants her even further leeway, only to reap vehement scorn, which finally drives him over the edge.
In the modern parlance of MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), Christopher would be viewed as a ‘mangina’: a typical nice guy who supplicates to women (2). His romanticized view of women is so ingrained that he falls in love at whim and deludes himself amidst the pratfalls. Consequently, women use him up immeasurably. Not only is there Kitty, the nubile harlot who usurps Christopher’s professional credits at her pimp’s behest; there’s also Adele, Christopher’s scolding, unappreciative battleaxe of a wife. Sadly, Christopher’s initial good intentions beget mental and financial fallout, as proof to the old adage.
Both these women direct their passions elsewhere, and their choices expose the feminine psyche with bluntness rare to film. Masculine virtue in the eyes of Kitty is embodied in the man who functions as her pimp, Johnny. Smarmy and scheming up to his timely disposal, we first witness Johnny doubling as Kitty’s street-corner assailant. Adele, meanwhile, is stuck on her presumably deceased first husband, for whom reverence is bestowed with blindness to fact. But upon finding that he and Adele are finished, Christopher lapses in a heartbeat and proposes to Kitty. There’s a name for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time, and indeed it becomes Christopher.
As one who favors objectivism over existentialism, I won’t excuse Christopher for his bad choices. In no way do I see him as some poor, hapless man who got swept into the darkened vortex of fate; just a man whose lack of dignity and restraint had the severest of consequence. Like most men, he was ill-trained in his handlings of the ‘fairer’ (sic) sex. And like most people, he’d been subconsciously hoodwinked by the ill-begotten notion of selflessness, which rendered him defenseless amidst the self-seeking women in his life. Christopher had no concept of rational self-interest, and thereby failed it when he put his identity, finances and liberty at stake – by surrendering credit on his paintings, stealing money from his place of employment, and ultimately plunging an ice-pick into Kitty.
Nice guys are typically ascribed as seeing the world through rose colored lenses. With Christopher Cross, such delusions spawned a lethal case of scarlet vision.