Masterfully directed by Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street is a bleak film in which an ordinary man succumbs first to vice and then to murder. Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) is a lonely man married to a nagging wife. Painting is the only thing that brings him joy.
Cross meets Kitty (Joan Bennett) who, believing him to be a famous painter, begins an affair with him. Encouraged by her lover, con man Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea) Kitty persuades Cross to embezzle money from his employer in order to pay for her lavish apartment. In that apartment, happy for the first time in his life, Cross paints Kitty's picture.
Johnny then pretends that Kitty painted to portrait, which has won great critical acclaim. Finally realizing he has been manipulated, Cross kills Kitty, loses his job, and because his name has been stolen by Kitty, is unable to paint. He suffers a mental breakdown as the film ends, haunted by guilt.
Kitty and Johnny are two of the most amoral and casual villains in the history of film noir, both like predatory animals completely without conscience. Milton Krasner's photography is excellent in its use of stark black-and-white to convey psychological states.
Fritz Lang is unparalleled in his ability to convey the desperation of hapless, naïve victims in a cruelly realistic world.