A handsome wayfarer falls in love with a young wife, and they cause the death of her inebriated husband but find they still are not happy.
While Giuseppi Bragana (Juan de Landa) pumps gas, hitchhiker Gino Costa (Massimo Girotti) meets his wife Giovanna Bragana (Clara Calamai) in the kitchen. She says he didn't pay. Gino is a mechanic and offers to fix Bragana's truck. Bragana goes to buy a part. Gino locks the door and makes love to Giovanna. He says he won't tell anyone. Giovanna says she had no money, but she dislikes her marriage. Gino asks her to go away, but she says no. When Bragana returns, Gino asks to stay. While Bragana is fishing, Gino and Giovanna walk on the road; but she goes back.
On the train Gino has no money, but Spagnolo (Elio Marcuzzo) pays for him. Spagnolo asks Gino to work with him and pays for a room. Gino tells Spagnolo he wants Giovanna. Spagnolo sells umbrellas, and Bragana and Giovanna see Gino wearing a sign. Bragana enters a singing contest while Gino tells Giovanna that he can't live without her. Bragana gets drunk, and Gino kisses Giovanna. She gets Bragana to let Gino drive by a river at night.
The next day Gino tells police that Bragana drove off the road, and Giovanna explains how she got out. The superintendent releases the body to Giovanna and Gino but may investigate some more. Gino and Giovanna go back but feel guilty. Gino says they must leave there, because it reminds him. Giovanna helps Gino remove the bandage from his arm. Giovanna with the priest Remigio (Michele Riccardini) complains Gino is drinking again. She wants to marry, but Remigio urges Gino to leave because of the talk. She tells Gino not yet. On a busy day Gino sees Spagnolo, who asks him to travel with him. They quarrel, and Gino knocks Spagnolo down. Spagnolo walks off and does not look back. After people leave, Giovanna tells Gino how much they made.
In Ferrara Gino buys an ice cream for dancer Anita (Dhia Cristiani). Giovanna tells Gino that Bragana had life insurance, and she got 50,000. Gino says he doesn't want it and regrets what they did. Gino goes to Anita's room. She comes in, but he stops her from taking off her sweater. They go to eat, and Giovanna sees them. Giovanna says she won't let Gino go and threatens to talk. Gino slaps Giovanna and goes back to Anita's room, kissing her. Witnesses tell the superintendent that they saw Gino and Giovanna out of the car as it crashed. The superintendent orders Gino arrested. In bed Gino tells Anita that he is bound to Giovanna forever. Gino sees the policeman and asks Anita to distract him. He escapes on the roof. Giovanna packs her bags and lets Gino in. He accuses her of reporting him, but she denies it. Giovanna says she is having a baby. In the morning she finds Gino, and he carries her. Gino tells her he is a new man; but they have to leave. She agrees. They drive and crash into the river. Gino carries Giovanna; but she is dead, and police arrest him.
This realistic drama was censored and destroyed by the
Fascists, but director Visconti saved a copy. A claim it was based
on the novel by James M. Cain kept it from being shown in the
United States until 1976. The sexual obsession that leads to murder
results in guilt and unhappy consequences.