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In 1946 in French Guiana, at the St. Laurent Prison, known as "Devil's Island" for its inhumane living conditions, convict Paul Rigaud is brutally beaten by Bayard, the sadistic whip-wielding prison commandant. Pierre Renault, the island's new governor, is a champion of prison reform, and hence, orders Bayard to abolish his policy of hiring out the convicts as cheap labor for private contractors. To circumvent the governor's orders, Bayard schemes with plantation owner Jacques Boucher to utilize the debtor's law to keep the convict enslaved. With the help of Suzanne, the sultry owner of the local café, Bayard insures that the freed convicts, called "Liberes," drink themselves back into debt and thus prison. Determined to abolish Devil's Island and rehabilitate the prisoners, Renault rails against the debtor's law, but Jean Robert, the prefect of police, is in league with Bayard and Boucher and so insists on enforcing the law. Having served his sentence, Rigaud is released and goes to Suzanne's café, where he is reunited with Lulu, his old cellmate. When the governor learns of Rigaud's release, he recalls that Rigaud was an idealistic young newspaper editor imprisoned for speaking out against French collaboration with the Germans during World War II. Counting on Rigaud's sense of justice and reportorial instincts, the governor asks him to help investigate Bayard and his ties to Boucher. At first wary of the governor's proposal, Rigaud changes his mind after Bayard comes to the café, and cold-bloodedly shoots Toto, one of the freed convicts. When the governor offers Rigaud a pardon in return for his help in scrutinizing the colony's records, Rigaud accepts his offer and the governor then assigns his daughter Giselle to be his secretary. After eight weeks of pouring over the records, Rigaud is about to quit in frustration when Giselle inspires him to continue. Rigaud is disheartened when he finds Lulu's death certificate in the records, but when Lulu appears at the office soon after, Rigaud realizes that death certificates have been filed for convicts who are still alive. When Lulu reports that he has been working off his debt by crushing rocks on Boucher's plantation, Rigaud deduces that there is a mine on the property that Boucher is keeping secret to avoid paying export taxes on the ore. Reasoning that Bayard has told Suzanne, his accomplice, the location of the mine, Rigaud pays her a visit and promises the governor's support in exchange for her help. Although Suzanne agrees to cooperate, Marcel, the bartender, eavesdrops at the door as she gives Rigaud directions to the mine, then after Rigaud leaves, stabs Suzanne and alerts Bayard and Boucher. As Lulu and Rigaud hurry to Boucher's plantation, the governor finds a note from Rigaud informing him that he has uncovered evidence of Bayard's corruption. After Bayard and Boucher rush to smuggle out the gold and dynamite the mine, Lulu and Rigaud arrive, and fired with the fury of justice, overpower them. Just then, the governor's troops appear to arrest Boucher and Bayard and free the convicts. After abolishing Devil's Island, the governor restores the rights of citizenship to the convicts and awards Rigaud his pardon. When the governor offers Rigaud the post of local administrator, he accepts as Giselle smiles at his side. Lulu and Rigaud then return to Devil's Island to dismantle its signposts.