Slightly Scarlet (1956)


Slightly Scarlet (1956)

Kleptomaniac Dorothy Lyons is paroled from prison in custody of her sister June, secretary to "reform" political candidate Frank Jansen. Ben Grace, associate of crime boss Sol Caspar, sees this as a way to smear Jansen's campaign. But after falling out with Caspar, Ben tries to help June, who he begins to fall for. Sexy Dorothy also has a yen for Ben. June is reluctantly forced to go along with Ben's schemes, but there may be more to these than meets the eye...
IMDb  6.8 /10
Director Allan Dwan
Writer James M. Cain
Writer Robert Blees
Release Date1956-02-15
Runtime1h 39mins
GenreCrime, Drama, Film-Noir
Content RatingApproved (Approved)
CompanyBenedict Bogeaus Production

Slightly Scarlet (1956 film)

Slightly Scarlet is a 1956 Technicolor film noir crime film based on James M. Cain's novel Love's Lovely Counterfeit. It was directed by Allan Dwan, and its widescreen cinematography was by John Alton.

The picture tells the story of Ben Grace (John Payne), a man working for a powerful metropolitan crime boss—Solly Caspar (Ted de Corsia) -- and their involvement with two sisters (Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl).


The ruthless Solly Caspar is fighting to retain control of Bay City's criminal activities when Frank Jansen (Kent Taylor), an honest man and mayoral hopeful, begins a strong anti-crime campaign. Caspar tasks his right-hand man Ben Grace to dig up some dirt on the candidate and ruin his chances of election.

Ben follows the candidate's redheaded secretary, June Lyons (Rhonda Fleming), to a jail where she's picking up her equally scarlet-tressed and sexy kleptomaniac sister Dorothy (Arlene Dahl). June is Jansen's girlfriend as well, but their relationship is still only social, and there's nothing to work with—but in the process of following her, Ben has become attracted to June.

Ben gives June incriminating evidence about Caspar, who slapped him around for not providing any dirt on June's boss. A tape Ben made proves Caspar killed a crusading newspaperman supporting Jansen, and Caspar is forced to leave the city. Ben takes over the rackets, unbeknownst to June.

Meanwhile, her sexually charged sister is attracted to Ben. She makes a play for him at a beach house previously belonging to Caspar and nearly kills Ben by accident with a spear gun. She goes for a swim in a leopard-pattern bathing suit, and afterwards we see them on the sofa, her fully dressed and looking very satisfied, while Ben looks guilty. Learning that he's never taken June there, Dorothy says "Score one for little sister", and later tells June they had sex. June later confronts Ben about this, and he never responds directly to the accusation, but says it's June he really wants. She wonders if it's really both of them he's after.

While Ben and Dorothy are still at the beach house, one of Caspar's men who was jailed because of Ben's information comes after him with a gun, but Ben wounds him--then tells him he's the one who bailed him out.

When the police arrest Dorothy for stealing a necklace, Ben intervenes on her behalf, making June finally realize that he's not as honest as he seemed. Jansen, who loves June, insists that her sister must go back to jail.

Caspar returns for revenge and finds Dorothy alone in the beach house. She throws herself at Caspar and his money, not even minding when June shows up and Caspar decides to murder her. June shoots him with the spear gun, then twice with his own gun.

Ben arrives and wants June to go away with him and the money. She refuses. Caspar, not yet dead, wounds Ben, then gathers his men, and comes back to finish the job. Ben gives himself up on condition June and Dorothy won't be hurt, and mocks Caspar, who shoots him several times--not realizing Ben has called his friend Dietz, the chief of police, and he is just arriving on the scene with a full squad. The police enter the house and arrest Caspar and his men, breaking the gang once and for all. A badly wounded Ben is taken to the hospital, his fate uncertain, and June goes with him, leaving Dorothy with Jansen.


  • John Payne as Ben Grace
  • Rhonda Fleming as June Lyons
  • Arlene Dahl as Dorothy Lyons
  • Kent Taylor as Frank Jansen
  • Ted de Corsia as Solly Caspar
  • Lance Fuller as Gauss
  • Buddy Baer as Lenhardt
  • Ellen Corby as June Lyons' Maid (uncredited)
  • Frank Gerstle as Detective Lt. Dave Dietz (uncredited)
  • Myron Healey as Wilson - Caspar Thug (uncredited)


The film was made when prolific director Allan Dwan was seventy years old. Dwan directed 386 films in his long career and his first work was the silent short Strategy, produced in 1911.

Noir cinematography

According to critic Blake Lucas the film was made with a modest budget, and yet the film is richly colored and well decorated and is one of the best of the Dwan-Alton pictures. Lucas wrote, "Alton's imagination in lighting is as distinctive in color as it is in black and white." Alton uses extensive shadows and large black areas, and he accentuates an array of pinks, greens, and especially the color orange. The end result is a startling effect in many of the scenes, all in Technicolor.

Critical reception

Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, was caustic about the casting and the adaptation of Cain's novel, and wrote: "Rhonda Fleming and a laughably kittenish Arlene Dahl, are a couple of on-the-make sisters, and the fellow, played by John Payne, is an on-the-make big-time gangster. In the end all their faces are red. So, we say, should be the faces of the people responsible for this film, which is said to have been taken from a novel (unrecognizable) of James M. Cain. For it is an exhausting lot of twaddle about crime and city politics, an honest mayor, his secretary-mistress, her kleptomaniacal sister and the fellow who wants to get control of the gang.

Critic and filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard was kinder to the film, placing it fifth in his list of the best films of 1956 in Cahiers du Cinema.