Scarlet Street follows a low ranking banker and amateur painter by the name of Christopher Cross. Cross, played by the legendary film noir star Edward G. Robinson, is a pathetic individual with limited self-confidence. His life changes when he meets a cunning prostitute with the fitting name ‘Kitty’ who is also called ‘Lazy Legs.’ Of course, Kitty cons Cross into thinking she likes the small and pathetic man. Kitty’s boyfriend Johnny is the mastermind of this scheme. Soon Kitty has an apartment to stay in. The rent is free, courtesy of stolen bank money from Mr. Cross.
Kitty also steals Cross’s painting and signs her name on them to the recommendation of Johnny. Kitty loves Johnny and seems to love him even more when he smacks her. Johnny doesn’t show much genuine emotion towards Kitty, only enough to convince her to commit dirty deeds for him. When Christopher Cross finally figures out he is being played, the repercussions are unexpected and violent to say the very least.
Upon proposing marriage to Kitty, Cross receives a heartbreaking response. Kitty says to Cross, “I wanted to laugh in your face ever since the moment I met you. You're old, ugly, and I'm sick of you. Sick! Sick! Sick!” After hearing this Cross bursts into anger and finally “sticks it” to Kitty with an ice pick. I guess all that sequel repression had to be dealt with somehow. This scene is possibly one of the most brutal scenes for it’s time period and echoes back to Fritz Lang’s days in Germany when he was making films like M.
Johnny is a quick talking blond beast that lacks the character that goes with his looks. Chris Cross, on the other hand, is a little Jew who we assume has a big heart. In the end, Cross is double crossed by the woman he loves (like Lang was by his wife Thea von Harbor) and her Aryan boy toy. With Scarlet Street, was Fritz Lang taking his revenge on Germany with cinema? Christopher Cross, like Fritz Lang, was an artist that lost his temper and the results were ugly. Although a masterpiece of film noir cinema, it is almost hard to believe that Lang was the same man that directed Metropolis and Woman in the Moon. Lang went from somewhat of an optimist to a moral nihilist.