Scarlet Street

  • Directors: Fritz Lang
  • Producers: Walter Wanger, Fritz Lang
  • Writers: Screenplay, Dudley Nichols, Story
  • Genres: Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery
  • Actors: Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea

Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson), a mild banker and amateur painter is at a dinner honoring him for twenty-five years of service in the bank for which he works. On his way home, he helps Kitty (Joan Bennett), an amoral femme fatale who is apparently being attacked by a man. Soon, he becomes enamored of her because his own domestic life is ruled by his bullying wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), who idolizes her former husband, a policeman drowned while trying to save a woman.

From Christopher’s comments about art, Kitty mistakenly believes him a wealthy painter. It turns out that the attacker was Johnny, Kitty’s brutish boyfriend (the film implies as strongly as possible under the Production Code that he’s her pimp), with whom she was arguing over money. Johnny convinces Kitty to pursue the sexual relationship with Cross, in order to extort money from him. Kitty inveigles Cross to rent an apartment for her, one that can also be his art studio. They take an expensive apartment formerly used by the Mexican mural painter Diego Rivera.

To finance this secret life, Cross steals from the bank. Meanwhile, Johnny tries selling some of Cross’s paintings, attracting the interest of a famous art critic. Kitty pretends she painted them, charming the critic, who promises to represent her. When Cross’s wife sees her husband’s paintings in a commercial art gallery as the work of Katherine March, she accuses him of copying March’s work. Cross grasps that he can sell his paintings under Kitty’s signature, and happily lets her become the public face of his art.

At story’s end, Cross, haunted by thoughts of Kitty, attempts to hang himself. He is rescued, but becomes a poor man with no way of claiming credit for his own paintings. He is haunted by Kitty and Johnny being together for eternity, loving each other.

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