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At a New York City art gallery, theater critic John Earl admires the portrait of a woman painted by James Harlan Corbin. Thinking that he recognizes the model, Earl asks gallery owner Hadley her name and Hadley replies that Corbin has painted the same woman for five years. Obsessed by the woman's identity, Earl discovers that her name is Helen North and decides to visit her. When Earl acts surprised that Helen bears no resemblance to the woman in the painting, Helen responds that although she served as the model, Corbin took artistic liberties and substituted the face of another woman for hers. After Earl leaves, Helen argues with her suitor, Hunt Mason, who is jealous of Corbin and demands that she quit her modeling job. That night, after dinner with his doting mother, Corbin, brooding, wanders to a nearby nightclub, where he inadvertently meets Earl. Recognizing Corbin as the infamous Paris artist whose model and fiancée, Madeline Renard, the face in Helen's painting, mysteriously drowned on the eve of their wedding, Earl insinuates that Corbin was responsible for Madeline's death and that guilt has driven him to paint her face again and again. The next day, Helen informs Corbin that she is quitting because she can no longer bear to have her face obliterated by that of another woman. Apologizing profusely, Corbin promises to devote himself to rendering Helen's image and soon the two fall in love. On the night that Helen is to join Corbin for a romantic boat ride, Hunt stops by Helen's apartment, and in a fit of jealousy, threatens her. Later that night, Helen's body is found floating in the river and Hunt is brought in for questioning. Upon reading the report of Helen's death, Earl, certain that Corbin is responsible, notifies the police. Prompted by Earl's call, Lt. Roberts visits Corbin at his studio, and when he sees a portrait of Madeline entitled "The Madonna's Secret," he recalls that Corbin was charged with the model's murder and arrests him. When Corbin is released due to his alibi, Earl, determined to prove him guilty, hires Helen's sister Linda to spy on him. Soon after, wealthy Ella Randolph offers to buy Corbin's painting, but when he learns that she is only interested in the work's notoriety, he refuses to sell it. Now using the name Linda Morgan and working as Corbin's model, Linda is struck by his mercurial moods. After lashing out at Linda one day, Corbin apologizes and invites her to attend his birthday party that evening. When his mother retires for the evening, Corbin invites Linda for a boat ride, causing her to finger nervously the pistol she has hidden in her purse. Once aboard, Corbin tosses the gun into the water and declares that he knows Linda is Helen's sister. The next day, Corbin begins a torrid affair with Ella. After a month passes, during which Corbin is unable to paint, Linda, who has been ordered to report to the studio daily, confronts Ella about squandering Corbin's talent, causing Ella to blurt out that she intends to marry Corbin. Afterward, Ella proposes to Corbin, and when he rejects her, she gets drunk. Upon returning home, Ella receives a call, directing her to the boat house. Ella is found drowned later that night, and Roberts arrests Corbin. At police headquarters, Roberts asks Linda's help in convincing Corbin to confess. Instead, Linda proclaims her faith in Corbin and begs him to hold his ground. Later that evening, Corbin's mother and Linda seek refuge at the boat house. As Corbin paces his cell, tormented by memories of the gruesome murders, Mrs. Corbin offers Linda a cup of drugged tea. Suddenly realizing that Linda is in danger, Corbin sends for Roberts. As Linda slips into a drugged stupor, Mrs. Corbin enumerates her list of victims, the women she murdered to keep her son to herself. Mrs. Corbin is about to inject Linda with a lethal poison when the police appear and shoot her. Just then, Roberts and Corbin arrive, and as Corbin bends over his mother's body, she dies protesting that she was only trying to save him.