Based on Guy de Maupassant's novel, a scoundrel uses his attraction to women to climb the social ladder while not marrying the one he loves.
In Paris in 1880 Georges Duroy (George Sanders) tells his old friend Charles Forestier (John Carradine) that he is broke. Charles is a journalist and says a job is open. In formal dress Georges meets Clotilde de Marelle (Angela Lansbury) at a recital. At dinner they discuss Punch and morals. Charles suggests that George write on Algeria, and Monsieur Walter (Hugo Haas) asks for an article. Georges has trouble writing. So Charles sends him to his wife Madeleine Forestier (Ann Dvorak), whom he flatters.
Georges takes Clotilde to a dance hall. They have fun dancing, and she kisses him. Georges ignores Rachel (Marie Wilson), and she gets upset. Clotilde writes to Georges that she loves him. Charles has tuberculosis and tells Georges he is going to Cannes. Georges visits Madeleine as she packs. He wants to write a gossip column, and they agree to be friends. Georges sends pears to Madame Walter (Katherine Emery). Laroche-Mathieu (Warren William) walks out because of Georges. Clotilde tells Georges that she wants to marry him.
Madeleine writes Georges to come, and he finds Charles dying. Georges tells Madeleine that he is hers. She says she wants an equal partnership and freedom. Georges tells Clotilde that he is marrying Madeleine. Laroche-Mathieu calls Georges Forestier, and Georges shoots a dummy of him to intimidate him. Georges tells Clotilde how influential he and his wife are, and he asks her to visit again. Georges declares his love to Madame Walter and plans to meet her.
Georges flatters a beautiful woman who is married to a blind man. Georges meets Madame Walter and says they must be discreet. She tells Georges a secret about Morocco, and she offers to invest for him. Clotilde finds her hair on his sleeve and becomes jealous.
Madeleine tells Georges that the Count de Vaudrec died and willed his fortune to her. Georges and Madeleine go to the Walters to see a painting of St. Anthony's temptation. Georges tells her to encourage Laroche-Mathieu. This causes a scandal that ruins Laroche -Mathieu, and Georges sues Madeleine for divorce. Georges visits the Walters and says he is gaining the noble name of Cantel. He asks to marry young Suzanne Walter (Susan Douglas), who says she will not marry anyone else. Georges tells Walter he will be an ally, and Walter consents; but Madame Walter hates Georges and sends a warning to Cantel.
Clotilde tells Georges that he is a thief who deceives, and he hits her. Philippe de Cantel (Richard Fraser) challenges Georges to a duel. Georges tells Clotilde that he loves only her and her daughter and had made his will to them. Clotilde tells Walter about the duel, and Suzanne plans to go. In the rain Georges shoots Philippe, and from the ground he shoots Georges. Suzanne arrives and cries. Georges says he loves Clotilde and dies.
This drama explores how an unscrupulous person with
charm and ruthless ambition could rise in Parisian society, but
taking the title of an impoverished aristocrat leads to his downfall.