A pawnbroker, Mr. Spengler, counts his money at the counter but realizes that it’s close to sundown. He closes the windows and hopes that “he” will think that the shop is closed. However, the bell rings and the pawnbroker reluctantly opens the door. There’s no one outside, but Spengler realizes that a cat pulled at the pull. Spengler brings it in but vows that no one else will come in and locks the door.
As Spengler counts his money, the cat hisses at an inside door. A voice addresses Spengler, saying that he’s been waiting for him. The door opens and the voice tells Spengler that he’s been waiting a year. Spengler begs for a little more time to enjoy his money, but the voice dismisses Spengler as a miser and informs him that his time was up at sundown. Spengler steps forwarded, compelled, and the door closes behind him as he screams in terror as smoke issues from beneath the door.
Some time later, Hector Vayne and his wife Marie eat supper and she asks Hector how his painting has been going. He says that he can’t paint anything and that it’s been two years since he had a showing. When Marie reminds him that the critics loved him, Hector dismisses her reassurances and says that he’s going to see Spengler to pawn their silverware. However, he realizes that they’ve pawned anything. Poor but proud, Hector goes to get one of his still life paintings and pawn it, knowing full well Spengler will only give him a fraction of the value. He dons his old coat and goes out.
Hector enters the pawnshop and calls to Spengler but gets no response. A man comes in through the back door and explains that Spengler is finished and he is taking over. The new pawnbroker approves of Vayne’s realistic work but tells Hector that he doesn’t deal in paintings. When Hector says he has nothing else to pawn, the pawnbroker says that he should be rich and can have anything and everything he wants. He claims that he’s Hector’s benefactor and offers to let Hector pawn his soul for 90 days. The pawnbroker tells Hector to think it over. When Hector asks how he could redeem his pledge, the pawnbroker says he wants Hector to paint him a new picture. He asks Hector to sign his name in the ledger and he hesitantly does so. The pawnbroker gives him a ticket and tells him to redeem it by sundown in 90 days.
Hector returns home and contemplates the ticket. Marie rushes in, ecstatic, and tells him that his agent has called and wants to stage a showing at the Lawson Gallery, and a wealthy man wants to buy at least six of Hector’s paintings., including the still life. As Marie checks the still life, Hector looks at the ticket again.
Hector frames his paintings and takes them to the gallery. The show is a success. Later, Hector returns to the pawnshop to talk to the pawnbroker. He wonders how the pawnbroker did it, but the pawnbroker simply says that he fulfilled his end of the bargain. He reminds Hector that he has 26 days, and Hector says that he has painted a landscape for him. Angry, the pawnbroker tells him that he wants him to paint a portrait, a portrait that captures the soul. He tells Hector that if the artist doesn’t give him another soul, he’ll take possession of Hector’s instead. The pawnbroker doesn’t care who he paints as long as he fulfills his deal, and suggests that Hector paint someone that he hates. Hector runs out as the pawnbroker reminds him he has 26 days left.
Hector and Marie move to an expensive penthouse but Hector is unable to enjoy his newfound wealth. He finally prepares to go to his old studio and Marie asks why he now only sleeps during the day and paints by night. Hector insists that he keeps the studio for sentiment and Marie notes that he hasn’t been very sentimental recently. The artist only says that he may have changed and dons his coat, and Marie points out that he has held onto that as well.
At the studio, John kisses his model, Nadja. However, she soon turns away from him and says that he keeps running away from her to his penthouse apartment. Hector kisses her again and Nadja demands proof of his love. She invites him to run away with her to get married on April 3, two days before the ticket is due. He asks for more time and says that what he really wanted all along was her. When she makes a passing remark about how he should save his analysis for a psychiatrist, Hector seizes on it as an answer to everything and leaves.
Hector goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Frank, and tells him the entire story. The psychiatrist suggests that the pawnbroker played upon Hector’s suggestibility and everything is a coincidence. He points out that Hector has insisted for years that he would become successful, and the pawnbroker had no way to make others purchase Hector’s paintings. When Hector insists that the pawnbroker has his soul, Dr. Frank says that it’s the pawnbroker is the one who is mentally disturbed. He tells Hector stay away from the pawnbroker, and Hector asks him to go to the pawnshop and see for himself. Dr. Frank agrees if Hector will consent to regular treatment to deal with the fact that he’s cheating on his wife, and Hector agrees.
Hector takes Nadja out for a celebration and informs her that he’ll be going with her to Mexico once he meets with Dr. Frank the next day. Nadja doesn’t believe it and refuses to go back with him to the studio until the next day when he meets with his psychiatrist.
When Hector returns to the psychiatrist’s office the next day, he finds the pawnbroker waiting for him. The pawnbroker informs him that Dr. Frank has been permanently detained and tells Hector to deliver the portrait and stop wasting his remaining 13 days.
Hector returns to the studio and Nadja demands to know where he’s been. She realizes that he’s drunk and Hector tells her that it’s finished and he hasn’t imagined anything. He tells her that he can’t go and Nadja demands to know why. Hector tells her that he has to paint a picture and shows her the ticket. Nadja laughs and tells him that his hands are shaking too badly. She sarcastically invites him to paint her and Hector refuses. Nadja believes that Marie is holding him back and tells Hector to go back to his wife. As Nadja leaves, Hector look at the ticket and realizes a way to solve his problem.
Hector takes his painting equipment to the penthouse and tells Marie that he’ll be painting at home from now on. He wants to do a portrait of her, even though she points out that he hasn’t done portraits in years. Jealous, Marie asks if he’s chosen a model. Hector assures her that he wouldn’t paint anyone but her, much to her joy.
Hector begins the portrait. As he works, the couple grows closer again. After ten days, Hector finally finishes the portrait. He realizes that it’s April 3, two days before the ticket is due. Marie asks who he painted the portrait for and he tells her that she’ll soon find out. He gives her some money, claiming it’s model fees, and tells her to run along and go shopping. Marie says that he’s so good for him and leaves.
Hector brings Nadja to the apartment and tells her that the portrait is finished. He explains that he sent Marie shopping so he could show her the portrait and she’d realize he was telling the truth. When Nadja sees the portrait, she becomes jealous and accuses Hector of loving her. The artist is unable to explain that he couldn’t paint Nadja. She grabs a blade and slashes the painting apart, and then runs out. Hector stares in horror at the ruins of his masterpiece and the phone rings. It’s the pawnbroker, who tells Hector that he only has 48 hours left.
Two days later, Marie comes in to see Hector in the bedroom where he’s been holed up for two days. He tells her that the portrait is done but he refuses to show it to her. Hector insists that they’ll be all right and confirms that it’s just after 3 p.m. After a moment he promises to tell Marie the entire story that evening after sundown. Hector kisses his wife and asks if she trusts. Marie assures him that she does and Hector says that in a few hours he’ll be free. He then suggests that they take a trip and Marie agrees, but he refuses to go to Mexico. Marie tells him to rest while she goes to make all the arrangements. Once she’s gone, Hector dozes off again.
Marie returns at a quarter to six and wakes her husband up. When he realizes what time it is, he packs up the portrait and tells Marie that he can’t afford to be late. Marie tells him that there was a stranger at the door who said he had business with Hector and she invited him in. Hector steels himself and tells Marie to invite the man in. The pawnbroker steps forward and Hector apologizes for being detained. The artist invites the pawnbroker to examine the portrait and unveils it: it’s a portrait of the pawnbroker. Hector tells him to take his hideous soul and get out. The pawnbroker admits that he’s the Devil, and Hector tells him that all he’s done is bring him and Marie back together.
After a moment, the Devil says that he needs to collect his pawn ticket to seal the deal. Hector sends Marie to get it from his coat pocket, and then accuses the Devil of sending Nadja to him. The Devil admits that women often work for him. Marie returns with a coat: the new coat that she bought her husband for the trip. She admits that she burned it, and the Devil laughs in triumph. He reminds Hector that only the ticket can redeem him, and the ticket is gone. Marie backs away in horror and the Devil slams the door shut in her face and locks it. He then turns to Hector and advances on him, saying a single word: “damnation.” As Marie pounds on the door, she hears Hector scream in horror and smoke billows out from beneath the door.