Frank Enley (Heflin) is living the life: he has a beautiful wife, Edith (Leigh), a comfortable home, and has a great reputation in his community. But the past is haunting him: Joe Parkson (Ryan) and Frank were pilots in World War II and were shot down and taken in as POWs.
During the two years of imprisonment, the horror of war pushed Frank to commit an unspeakable act of which Joe is the sole survivor. Now out for revenge, no act of kindness or reformation can stop Joe in his unrelenting quest to murder Frank.
This film shows the following tropes:
- Accuser of the Brethren: Joe doesn't care if Frank is reform bound and regrets his decision: he wants him dead.
- Bitter Sweet Ending: A complicated man is redeemed only through his death.
- Dark and Troubled Past: The dark troubles come from the POW camp where Frank gave away the escape plan to his German Commandant, thinking he was doing it to save his men, but unconsciously, it was for food.
- Death Is the Only Option: Frank realizes that all his problems will go away if he kills himself. But he jumps out of the way of the train just in time.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Frank does this when hes at a convention which makes him unable to hear or care about Ediths warning.
- Fallen Hero: Both men, really. They are/were brave WWII pilots, but the POW camp changed them forever. Frank betrayed his men while Joe is dreaming of his unhealthy revenge.
- Fake Ultimate Hero: Frank. A high-standing member of society who has a troubling secret.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Running away from Joe leads Frank to end up on the wrong side of town where he meets naïve-but-kind prostitute Pat (Astor). She tries to help him find a lawyer to see if he can deal with Joe, but the lawyer is extremely shady and is only out to make a quick buck and take advantage of Frank's desperate situation.
- Men Use Violence, Women Use Communication: Frank first tries to avoid Joe, but Joe just wants to kill him. This drives Frank to order a hit on him to fix the problem. The women, Edith and Ann (Joe's girlfriend), talk about the situation and try to stop their respective men, to no avail.
- P.O.W. Camp: Although we never see the camp, we do hear about and witness the fallout of what happened there.
- Redemption Equals Death: Ultimately what happens to Frank: he agrees to set up a hit on Joe under duress but decides to run and save him from being shot, but hes killed himself.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Both Frank and Joe arent integrating back into civilian life as easily as they should. Frank is able to keep up a happy façade, but eventually breaks down when the memories of his POW life haunt him. On the other hand, Joe could never possibly assimilate until he accomplishes his insane idea of justice.
- The Stool Pigeon: What Frank became to sell his men out. For food.
- Taking the Bullet: The bullet that was aimed for Joe is stopped by Frank. Through his chest.
- War Is Hell: Frank becomes a stoolie through extreme circumstances: he rats out his men because hes starving and food is part of the deal. Does he deserve to die for this or is it something anyone under those circumstances wouldve done?