Scarlet Street is a 1945 American film noir directed by Fritz Lang and based on the French novel La Chienne (The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière, that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir.
The principal actors Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, had earlier appeared together in The Woman in the Window (1944) also directed by Fritz Lang. The three were re-teamed for Scarlet Street. The film was later featured in an episode of Cinema Insomnia.
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. The postage meter advertising slogan used by Universal Studios to promote the film pictures a woman leaning against a lamp post with a man nearby, a classic image of a prostitute. It turns out that the attacker was Johnny (Dan Duryea), Kitty's brutish boyfriend with whom she was arguing over money; the film implies as strongly as possible under the Production Code that he's her pimp.
Soon, Cross 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. Johnny convinces Kitty to pursue the 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.
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 is forced by Johnny to pretend 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 is glad his paintings are appreciated, albeit under Kitty's signature, and happily lets her become the public face of his art.
Meanwhile, the supposedly dead first husband of Cross's wife suddenly reappears. He explains he had not drowned, but had stolen money from the woman he supposedly was saving. Already suspected as corrupt, he had taken the opportunity to hide. With that, Cross understands his marriage will be invalidated when he confronts his wife with her live dead first husband. Having arranged that, he believes he can then marry Kitty, only to catch her in Johnny's arms. Shocked, he confronts Kitty, but still asks her to marry him; she taunts him in reply. Furious, he murders Kitty with an ice-pick. Johnny is accused, convicted, and put to death for Kitty's murder, despite his attempts to implicate Cross, who goes unpunished. At the trial, Cross denies he painted any of the pictures, however Cross's embezzlement is discovered and he is fired from his job. Posthumously, Kitty is recognized as a great artist.
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