Two’s company, but three’s a crowd when femme fatale Joan Bennett and her husband, producer Walter Wanger, join forces with surly filmmaker Fritz Lang. Following the film noirs The Woman in the Window and Man Hunt, Lang and Bennett capitalize on their successful collaboration by forming a production company alongside Wanger in 1945. Named Diana Productions for Joan’s eldest daughter, the trio would produce only two films before notoriously disbanding.
In this week’s episode, “Scarlet Street,” Love Is a Crime podcast hosts Karina Longworth and Vanessa Hope (Bennett and Wanger’s granddaughter) delve into the peaks and valleys of this contentious arrangement. Bennett (voiced by Zooey Deschanel), Wanger (Jon Hamm), and Lang (Johannes Grenzfurthner) clash over the very tenets that brought them together: art, money, sex, and celebrity. This is only exacerbated when their biggest hit is followed by their most glaring flop. “With the success of Scarlet Street, the dreams and goals of all three members of the Diana team were vindicated,” Longworth says in the episode. “The honeymoon wouldn’t last for long.”
Things began deteriorating when Wanger was tasked with delivering the final cut of Scarlet Street, following Lang’s shift to a new film. The director saw Wanger’s cuts, at the studio’s request, as a betrayal of his creative vision. Still, Scarlet Street proved to be an unmitigated success for Bennett—the last taste of it she would truly have professionally. “I mean, we never know we’re at our own peak, and that’s a horrible thought, that you can just have one peak,” Hope says. “It is arguable that 1946 was the peak of her career as an actress and someone who was determining her own approach to her career.”
Just a year later, 1947’s Secret Beyond the Door became Universal’s “biggest money-loser of the year,” shuttering Diana Productions and signaling a decline in Bennett’s femme fatale status. The film’s production also proved traumatic for Bennett. Lang and his co-screenwriter/offscreen paramour Silvia Richards scripted a scene in which Bennett and her costar, Michael Redgrave would have to flee from their burning home. Lang’s refusal to let the actors use stunt doubles meant Bennett would have to move through an actual burning set. The scene mirrored a tragic event in Bennett’s life from just four years earlier.
Listen to the episode above, and be sure to listen next Tuesday, September 7, for the next installment of Bennett and Wanger’s true Hollywood story. Subscribe at listen.vanityfair.com/loveisacrime or wherever you get your podcasts.
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