Adapted from James Ronald's novel, a man murders his obnoxious wife in order to marry a beautiful friend, but he is threatened with blackmail.
In London in 1902 Philip Marshall (Charles Laughton) learns his son John (Dean Harens) is leaving because of his mother Cora Marshall (Rosalind Ivan), and Philip moves into his son's room. Philip lectures a boy about embezzling. Mary Gray (Ella Raines) asks for a job and says she can use a typewriter, but Philip says men are unemployed. He finds her crying and takes her to dinner and shows. Mary thanks Philip for getting her a job. Philip helps his alcoholic neighbor Gilbert Simmons (Henry Daniell) get home. Cora complains that Philip ignores her. He says they do not love each other and asks for a divorce, but she says no. Philip says he will leave, and she threatens to ruin his business. Mary tells women why she likes Philip. He tells Mary they cannot see each other any more and admits he lied about being free; he cannot get a divorce. Cora tells Philip that she knows about Mary and threatens to embarrass her.
Neighbors talk about Cora's accidental death on the stairs. At the funeral Edith Simmons (Molly Lamont) offers to give Philip anodyne to help him sleep. John tells Philip that he tried hard and notices his stick is missing. Inspector Huxley (Stanley Ridges) comes in and questions Philip. Huxley describes how a murder could have occurred. Philip says he has no evidence, and Huxley wonders if there is a motive. Philip tears up his letter to Mary. She sees him on the street, and he says being suspected leaves a mark. Huxley asks Mary about Philip and learns they were just married, which means she cannot testify against him. Huxley notes this but wishes them well.
Philip tells Gilbert Simmons to stop hitting his wife. Huxley buys Gilbert a drink and says he suspects Philip of murder. Simmons asks Philip for ten pounds and threatens to testify against him. Philip starts paying him and puts anodyne in the whiskey he gives Gilbert, who dies. After a delay, Philip lets in John, Sybil Packer, and her parents. Sybil finds the whiskey bottle is empty, and Mr. Packer finds some keys that Philip says are his. The guests leave, and Mary asks Philip what is wrong. He suggests they go to Canada with John, and Mary agrees. A woman tells Philip that the police are investigating Gilbert's disappearance. Philip calls on Edith Simmons, who says she wishes sometimes that Gilbert would never come back. Before Philip boards the boat, Huxley sees him and says that Gilbert's body was found in a canal and that he was poisoned by his wife who will be convicted. Philip says she is innocent, and Huxley wishes him a good journey. Huxley tells his assistant that Philip is a decent man and must confess. In the final scene Philip gets off the boat.
The killing of two unsympathetic characters resembles
in some ways the justification of killing in war; but in civil
society such murders cannot be allowed, and the main character
and the audience must wrestle with their consciences.