Based on James M. Cain's novel, a drifter meets a beautiful wife of an older man, and they murder her husband, resulting in a series of unexpected consequences.
Frank Chambers (John Garfield) takes a job offered him by older Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) because he is attracted to Nick's pretty wife Cora (Lana Turner). Nick encourages Frank to dance with Cora, and they go swimming at night. Cora leaves a note and leaves with Frank but changes her mind and goes back. When drunk Nick sees the suitcases, she says Frank wanted to leave; but she gave him a raise. Frank says he loves Cora, and she asks him to get rid of Nick. A passing cop stops and sees a ladder that is part of their plan for her to kill Nick in the bathtub. However, Nick survives and will be home in a week. Cora and Frank are happy; but when Nick is coming home, Frank leaves.
Weeks later Nick sees Frank at the market and brings him back. Nick says he is selling the roadside diner. Cora objects, but he arranges to make the deal. Frank and Cora plan a car accident, but the district attorney Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames) follows them. Nick is drunk, and Frank pretends to be. Cora drives and stops the car. Frank hits Nick with a wrench and crashes the car down a hill. Cora screams, "Help!" and Sackett arrives.
Sackett visits injured Frank and says they murdered Nick. He says Nick's new life insurance policy for $10,000 is a motive. Sackett says maybe Cora did it alone and gets Frank to sign a complaint to save himself. Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn) is Cora's lawyer and bets Sackett on her case. Keats tells Frank he is handling it. In court Keats says Cora will plead guilty to the murder of Nick and the attempted murder of Frank. In jail Cora blames Frank. Keats comes in, and Cora says Frank won't get away with it. She signs a confession written down by Ezra Kennedy (Alan Reed) that they both murdered Nick. Keats comes back and says the confession is in his safe.
In court Keats says Cora is pleading not guilty to both charges, but he offers Sackett a deal. Cora pleads guilty to manslaughter, and Sackett asks for leniency. The judge only gives her probation. Keats brings Cora the insurance check. Cora and Frank stay at the restaurant that draws curious people. Cora and Frank get married, and Cora goes to visit her ill mother. Frank meets pretty Madge and goes to Mexico with her. Cora comes back in black. Kennedy asks Cora and Frank for $15,000, but Frank beats up Kennedy and makes him call his friend to bring the confession, which Frank burns. Cora met Madge and is so jealous that she threatens to turn in Frank. She says she is going to have his baby. They go swimming in the sea at night and go out far. Cora is tired, but Frank helps her make it back, reassuring her. Frank is kissing her while driving and smashes the car, and Cora is killed.
Sackett prosecutes Frank for murder. Frank confesses to a priest and explains he did not murder Cora. Sackett shows Frank a note from Cora that proves he murdered Nick. Frank realizes he is being executed for that and asks the priest for a prayer.
This melodrama leaves the sex to the imagination because
of censorship while exploring the complications and guilt which
result from premeditated murder.