A detective tracks down a Nazi war criminal who murders a former colleague in a small American town.
At the Allied War Crimes Commission, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) suggests they let a man escape, and he follows Konrad Meinike (Konstantine Shayne) to Harper, Connecticut. At a school Meinike knocks out Wilson with gym equipment. Meinike meets Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) at her home but goes out and finds Charles Rankin (Orson Welles) on the street. Rankin says he hid his identity as Franz Kindler and is marrying the daughter of a supreme court judge. Meinike prays with Rankin, who strangles him and hides the body in the bushes.
Rankin weds Mary Longstreet. Wilson wakes up and buys aspirin from the town clerk Potter (Billy House). Rankin buries the body and goes back to his bride. Wilson goes to the clock tower and meets Noah Longstreet (Richard Long), who says Rankin is working on the clock. Wilson eats dinner with Rankin, Mary, Noah, and Judge Adam Longstreet (Philip Merivale). Rankin talks of German warrior culture and says Karl Marx was not a German but a Jew.
Rankin's dog smells the grave. Rankin wakes up Mary, who says she dreamed of the little man who came to her house. Rankin locked her dog in the cellar. Wilson asks Noah to help him investigate Rankin. Potter and Wilson search the suitcase left by Meinike. Mary asks if he had a foreign accent, and Rankin intimidates her. Wilson tells Noah that Mary needs to learn that Rankin is a Nazi. Rankin tells Mary that he was being blackmailed by Meinike. Noah finds the dog died, and Wilson learns from a doctor that he was poisoned. Wilson suspects the dog was digging for a body.
Mary finds Rankin packing, and he admits he killed her dog and the little man. Mary says she won't tell on him. The body is found. Mary is summoned to her father Adam. Wilson questions her, but she denies having seen Meinike. Wilson tells her he ran a concentration camp and shows her a film. Wilson tells how Franz Kindler devised genocide and that he likes clocks. Mary becomes nervous, and Adam asks her to tell the truth; but she refuses to believe that her husband is a Nazi. Wilson tells Adam that Rankin may kill Mary. In the clock tower Mary tells Rankin what Wilson said. People thank Rankin for fixing the clock.
Wilson goes to Mary's tea. Mary's housekeeper Sara (Martha Wentworth) reports to Wilson how upset Rankin made Mary and agrees to protect her. Rankin calls Mary to meet him in the tower. Sara stops Mary from going out by feigning illness. Mary calls Noah to go meet Rankin, and he calls Wilson. Noah and Wilson climb the ladder which breaks. Rankin goes home and is surprised to see Mary. She asks about Noah, and Rankin assumes he was killed by the ladder. Rankin flees. Mary climbs the ladder, and Rankin helps her up. She has a gun. Wilson appears, and Rankin gets the gun. Wilson says people will get Rankin. Wilson knocks the gun away, gets it, and wounds Rankin, who falls out onto the clock and then to the ground.
This detective thriller is one of the first films to
show the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. The fascist
tendency to try to control everything by murder, intimidation,
and fear is more easily defeated when it is only one person.