Based on Paul Anthelme’s play and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, a priest hears the confession of a murderer and finds himself framed by circumstantial evidence.
Otto Keller (O. E. Hasse) comes into a church and confesses to the priest Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) that he killed a man. Otto tells his wife Alma Keller (Dolly Haas) that the priest can’t tell the police.
In the morning Michael goes to meet Villette and meets Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden). Otto tells Larrue that he found the body of Villette. Michael tells Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter) of the murder, and she leaves.
Ruth meets her husband Pierre Grandfort (Roger Dann) after Parliament. Otto apologizes to Michael for reporting the murder. Larrue goes to Willy Robertson (Brian Aherne), and two girls say they saw a priest. Detective Murphy (Judson Pratt) questions priests and takes Michael to Larrue, who asks him about Villette and the woman outside his house. Michael says he can’t help. Larrue suspects Michael and asks where he was that night. Michael won’t answer.
Willy gets a call at Ruth’s party and tells her that Larrue suspects Michael. Pierre is jealous because Ruth loves Michael. Ruth calls Michael and says she must see him. They meet on a ferry, and she warns him. She tells Michael that she loves him; but he says he has changed.
Larrue asks Willy to call Ruth. She tells Pierre that she is going to Willy’s office, and he goes with her. Michael comes in too. Ruth tells Larrue that Michael was in her car from 9 to 11 that night. She says she was to meet Villette the next morning because of blackmail. Larrue asks why she was being blackmailed. Ruth wants to clear Michael and explains.
When young they were in love, but Michael went off to war and stopped writing. Ruth worked with Pierre and married him. She welcomes Michael home. In a storm they find shelter for the night. Villette finds them. Michael hits him and learns that Ruth is married. Michael becomes a priest. Villete asks Ruth to have her husband help with a tax problem. Ruth meets Michael, who tells her to go to Villette’s house. That morning Michael told her that Villette was dead.
Larrue tells Willy that Villette died at 11:30. Pierre tells Ruth that Michael is still suspected because she gave the motive. Ruth tells Michael that he is going to be arrested. Michael tells Otto, who asks if he can tell the police. Otto tells Murphy that Michael left. Michael walks the streets to a church and then goes to Larrue.
Willy prosecutes the case and questions Otto and Ruth, who admits she loves Michael. Willy questions Michael, who admits he hit Villette. Michael says he saw Otto in the church after 11:15. The jury finds Michael not guilty. The judge disagrees but discharges him. People are angry at Michael. Alma Keller goes to intervene, and Otto shoots her. She said Michael is innocent. She asks Michael to forgive her and dies. Larrue wants Otto alive. Otto shoots a chef. Police wound Otto, and Michael walks toward him. Otto shoots himself and asks Michael to forgive him.
This unusual murder story portrays the dilemma of an innocent priest who could easily save himself by reporting what he heard in confession but refuses to violate that sacred trust. The censors would not allow the play’s ending of the priest being hanged because of its challenge to the expectation that movies should end with a proper moral conclusion.