William Wyler's dark and poisonous melodrama, based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel, features Bette Davis in one of her nastiest roles. The story begins in the shimmering moonlight on a tropical Malayan rubber plantation. Shots ring out and a wounded man, Geoffrey Hammond (David Newell) staggers from a bungalow as Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) coldly follows him, pumping the remaining bullets into his body. She later tells her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) that she shot Geoffrey, a mutual friend, because he was drunk and tried to take advantage of her. Robert, who owns the plantation, believes her story and hires high-powered lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) to defend her. But then a letter surfaces in which it is revealed that Leslie had invited Geoffrey to the plantation on the night of his murder. When Howard confronts her with the letter, Leslie admits writing it and implies that she and Geoffrey were lovers. Howard, nevertheless, agrees to continue defending her; he explains to Leslie, "I won't tell you what I personally thought when I read the letter. It's the duty of counsel to defend his client, not to convict her even in his own mind. I don't want you to tell me anything but what is needed to save your neck." Meanwhile, the letter becomes the object of a $10,000 blackmail scheme from Geoffrey's widow (Gale Sondergaard).