Ann Sutton (Tierney) is married to a prominent psychoanalyst, Bill (Richard Conte), and her life seems to be perfect, except for the fact that she’s secretly a kleptomaniac.
She’s caught shoplifting in a fancy department store but is saved by David Korvo (José Ferrer). Korvo is a "doctor" — read: quack — who claims the ability to cure his patients through astrology and hypnosis, and he posits that he can rid Ann of her pesky insomnia and shoplifting habits. However, Korvo is a man of ill repute who gutted Teresa Randolph (Barbara O’Neil) out of her money. Agreeing to his methods, Ann is hypnotized by Korvo but is soon found at the scene of Teresa’s murder without any memory of the events.
Whirlpool shows the following tropes:
- The Alibi: An insane one: Korvo has a gallbladder surgery during the time of the murder, so the police initially rule him out. But it's later revealed that Korvo hypnotized himself so that he wouldn’t feel any of the post-surgery pain and went out to commit the murder.
- Blackmail: At first Ann thinks that Korvo asks her out on a date to blackmail her, but in reality, he has something much, much worse cooked up.
- Brainwashed: Ann has been literally hypnotized by Korvo and will do anything he tells her to do.
- Cassandra Truth: No one believes Ann when she explains that her meetings with Korvo were entirely platonic and to help with her insomnia.
- Clear My Name: The latter half of the film is Bill trying to clear his wife’s name.
- The Corpse Stops Here: Ann finds herself at the scene of the crime looking very guilty.
- Daddy Issues: This is what started Ann’s kleptomania. Her father withheld her inheritance, so she began stealing to spite him.
- Destroy the Evidence: Initially, Korvo has Ann (under hypnoses) hide the recordings of Teresa confessing Korvo’s abuse in Teresa’s closet (Teresa happened to be Bill’s patient). But knowing that the police will probably use this against him, he comes out of his internment at the hospital and tries to destroy the evidence before the police get there. He does shoot the record but by that time Lt. Cordon has already heard enough.
- The Film of the Book: Screenwriter Ben Hecht adapted the story from the 1946 novel Methinks the Lady... by Guy Endore.
- Frame-Up: Korvo uses Ann to kill Teresa by way of hypnoses.
- Happy Marriage Charade: The reason that Ann has started to shoplift is that she feels trapped and unhappy married to Bill. She feels like she’s lost her independence.
- Idle Rich: Ann Sutton has too much time on her hands and resorts to shoplifting among other things.
- Manchurian Agent: Ann is this to Korvo. He uses her for murder.
- Sanity Slippage: When Ann can’t remember anything pertaining to the murder, she becomes a wreck. It’s especially worse for her when her husband doesn’t believe her.
- Spiritual Successor: Oftentimes called an unofficial "sequel" to Laura.
- Stepford Smiler: Ann to her husband. She tries her best to hide her unhappiness.
- Sticky Fingers: Ann steals a $300 pin from a department store and is almost arrested until Korvo steps in.
- Trophy Wife: Sutton treats Ann this way at times, saying that he’s happy when people call her his beautiful and dutiful wife.
- Would Hit a Girl: Korvo beat Teresa.