At a gas station in the hamlet of Bridgeport, California owner Jeff Bailey is meeting with a former business associate of his named Joe Stefanos who informs him that his boss, one Whit Sterling, requests his presents the following morning in Lake Tahoe. Jeff reluctantly agrees to this meeting and this divulges the details of his past to his best girl, Ann Miller. Those details revolve around up to three years ago he was a private detective named Jeff Markham working in NYC. He had a partner named Jack Fisher and they were hired by a gambler named Whit Sterling to track down his girlfriend Kathie Moffat.
Whit told them that Kathie shot him and then absconded with $40,000 that belonged to him. Jeff eventually tracked Kathie down in Acapulco, but fell in love with her. Kathie’s side of the story differs: she never stole Whit’s money, but merely wanted a way to escape his stranglehold on her every movement. Just as Jeff and Kathie are about to make their way of Mexico, Whit and Stefanos appear in Jeff’s hotel room where they are informed of his failure to locate the missing girl and receive his offer to remove himself from the case and the PI business altogether. Suspicious that Jeff is not telling the entire truth, he demands instead that Jeff stay on the case and commit himself to seeing it through.
Jeff and Kathie make it safely onto a steamship that night and set sail for San Francisco. Their happy anonymity is later interrupted by Fisher who has been searching for them since he was planning on getting his half of the $10,000 they were to be paid for locating Kathie. Fisher threatens Jeff which turns into a physical altercation which comes to a sudden end when Kathie coldly shoots Fisher dead and tells Jeff to bury the body. Only now does Jeff finally learn that Kathie actually did steal Whit’s money which brings his narrative told to Ann to an end.
Ann confirms her continued love for Jeff and promises she will wait for him to return from Tahoe against the advice of both her parents and Jim, a local cop who has himself been in love with Ann since they were kids. When Jeff arrives at Whit’s lodge in Tahoe, he realizes that Kathie has completely double-crossed him by not only going back to the gambler, but telling him everything about their affair in Mexico and San Francisco. This meeting has been arranged to use Jeff’s culpability in the events as a means of coercing him into getting back some sensitive tax documents that Whit claims are in the hands of lawyer named Leonard Eels for the purpose of blackmail.
Whit arranges for Jeff to go with Meta Carson, Eels’ secretary, to the apartment of her boss. She will steal his briefcase, give the papers to Jeff and Jeff will return the papers to Whit. A conversation with Eels convinces Jeff this entire caper is a ruse, however, and that Whit is actually plotting to rid himself of the lawyer and Jeff at the same time by framing Jeff for the murder of Eels. Jeff fails to stop the murder from happening, he successfully convinces Kathie that she, Meta and Stefanos can all be proved culpable conspirators. Kathie finally admits to Jeff that when she killed Fisher she was also forced to sign a confession and, furthermore, that signed document is now in the safe inside Eels’ apartment. Which means that now Jeff has been implicated in not just one murder he didn’t commit, but two.
His only hope is to convince Kathie that he still loves her so he can locate the missing briefcase. All while the heat is on now that the police have launched a manhunt for the alleged killer of Eels. He does manage to get possession of the papers, however, and tells Kathie that unless Whit hands over the signed papers implicating him, the papers Whit so dearly wants back are going to be on their way to the IRS.
Kathie, ever the cool cucumber, instead orders Stefanos to tail a deaf-mute who works at the gas station for Jeff known only as The Kid. Following him to Jeff’s hiding place in the mountains, Stefanos aims a gun on Jeff only to suddenly be caught up in the fishing line of The Kid which causes him to fall to his death. Jeff takes this opportunity to sneak into Whit’s lodge at the lake and inform him of how Kathie has betrayed him yet again. Jeff demands $50,000 from Whit, plus her admission of guilt to killing Fisher plus evidence implicating Stefanos as the real murderer of Eels. As Jeff prepares to make off with Ann, he returns to pick up his money from Whit only to find that Kathie has killed him. When he discovers that police are tracking The Kid as he heads south, Jeff decides to head for Mexico with Kathie, but purposely leads them straight into a police stake-out. With the cops bearing down, Kathie shoots Jeff to death and then is killed herself by the police.
When The Kid returns home, he informs Ann that Jeff had reunited with Kathie and planned to escape with her. Ann decides to take Jim up on his offer to go away with him and put Bridgeport behind them forever.