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When famous Harlem stripper Gertie LaRue arrives on the island of Rinidad, she is given celebrity treatment and taken to the Paradise Hotel, where she and her assistant, Stella Van Johnson, are placed in the posh bridal suite. The hotel's proprietor, Diamond Joe, is smitten with Gertie, but Gertie ignores Stella's suggestion that she take an interest in him. Meanwhile, in their private dormitory room, members of Gertie's troupe discuss Gertie's past relationship with a generous Harlem man named Al, whom Gertie treated poorly and deserted. Also staying at the hotel is the pious Mr. Jonathan Christian and his assistant Ezra Crumm, two missionaries who have come to the island to teach about sin. Having witnessed Gertie's flirtatious behavior on the boat, Mr. Christian tells Ezra that she is a "painted trollop." Gertie remains true to her reputation as a gregarious flirt when she joins a sailor named Tight Pants and a soldier named Big Boy for a drink at the Diamond Palace lounge. There, Larry, the bar's piano player, recognizes Gertie and plays a tune intended to stir memories of her troubled past in Harlem and her relationship with his friend Al. When Gertie returns to the hotel drunk and in the company of the two military men, Mr. Christian watches in horror as she kisses both of them. He also sees Gertie throw a liquor bottle at a hallucination of Al that has suddenly haunted her. Gertie faints when Mr. Christian emerges from the shadows, and when she regains consciousness, she misinterprets his actions and accuses him of trying to take advantage of her. Later that day, Gertie, having been spooked by bad omens since her arrival on the island, goes to a fortune teller, an old woman named Old Hager, who looks into her crystal ball and sees Gertie's misdeeds and has a vision of a man coming after her. However, neither the medium's portents nor Mr. Christian's best efforts to have the Diamond Palace shut down prevent Gertie from taking the stage and performing her striptease. During her act, Mr. Christian, who has been watching the show with interest, takes to the stage and orders an end to the show. A brawl ensues when he grabs Gertie, but Diamond Joe whisks her out of the club and takes her back to the hotel. Alone in her room, Gertie is unhappy with the image she has caught of herself in the mirror, and while she is thinking, Al bursts into the room from the balcony and shoots her. When Stella and the police rush into the room, Al tells them that he killed her because he loved her.