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Doug Gerhardt, a deliveryman for a Los Angeles Cadillac agency, "borrows" the agency's cars to impress young women on first dates. However, when he pulls into a motel with his latest conquest, Dorothy Pierce, she protests, and during the ensuing struggle, he strikes her dead and dumps her body in the motel parking lot. Later, at work, Gerhardt is told to deliver the car he borrowed, which had been at the agency for servicing, and leaves towing a three-wheeled motorcycle for his return trip. After failing to impress the car's female owner, he returns to the agency and barely misses hitting Marian Wood and her small son Jeff, as they cross a suburban street. Gerhardt rolls over the motorcycle but goes to help Marian and apologizes. Meanwhile, a police detective establishes from paint samples found under Dorothy's fingernails that they are looking for a red Cadillac convertible. The next day, after Marian's husband Woody drives their two young sons to school and leaves on a business trip, Marian receives a visit from Gerhardt, ostensibly to return Jeff's yo-yo, which he surreptitiously had taken. He arrives when Marian's washing machine is overflowing and fixes it for her, thereby ingratiating himself. After Bob Yeakel, the Cadillac agency owner, tells the detective and his partner that he sold a red Cadillac convertible to a Louis T. Fenser, they visit Fenser, a publisher of exposé magazines. Although Fenser informs them that the car was locked up all weekend, he later learns differently. At home, Gerhardt has an argument with his slatternly mother, who declares that even though he has been under psychiatric care for five years, he is her sole support, and she will not report him for taking the cars, or reveal his activities to his doctor. Gerhardt then meets Marian for beers and claims to have attended the same school with her. Marian, feeling neglected by Woody, who is always busy building his business, enjoys Gerhardt's company but, later, is horrified when he drives them to a motel. When he tries to kiss her, the car's horn goes off and jams. Eventually, Gerhardt disconnects the horn and Marian, realizing that it is a borrowed car, suggests taking it to her husband's repair shop, which is closed. While Gerhardt works on the car, Marian goes to the office to do some work. Gerhardt, impressed by the size and quality of the business, tells Marian that he intends to pursue her. Meanwhile, the motel clerk has alerted the police about a white convertible with a horn problem and they trace it to Yeakel's agency. Gerhardt's mother visits Marian and tells her that her son has been in and out of mental hospitals since he was fifteen and is currently on parole to her. Mrs. Gerhardt, believing that Marian has been encouraging her son's attentions, warns her to stop, but Marian is ready to call the police. However, Mrs. Gerhardt assures her that she can handle her son and leaves, unaware that Gerhardt is observing her from the bushes. During the night, Gerhardt breaks into Marian's house and is in her bedroom when Woody returns from his trip and overhears Marian trying to placate Gerhardt in order to get him to leave. Assuming Marian is having an affair, Woody leaves. Meanwhile, the detective establishes that Gerhardt used Fenser's car on his date with Dorothy and, having reviewed his medical record, heads to Gerhardt's house. At that moment, Gerhardt, who has gone to Woody's repair shop to apply for a job, attempts to kill Woody in order to take over his business and causes a car engine to fall on him. At the Gerhardts', meanwhile, the police find Mrs. Gerhardt, beaten to death. Woody survives and, in the hospital, Marian tells him that she loves him and that he must trust her. While there, Marian receives a phone call from Gerhardt informing her that he is in her house, "baby-sitting." He orders her to come home immediately and to tell no one. Marian does call the police, however, and the detective and several others meet her near her house. They give her fifteen minutes in which to try to get the boys out before they break in. Gerhardt has found Woody's old army revolver and tells her that if Woody dies, they could take over the business. When Gerhardt makes it clear that he intends to rape her, Marian persuades him to let the boys go. She wakes her older son Josh and tells him to take Jeff outside when she goes into her bedroom. However, Gerhardt locks the door to the boys' room, and asks Marian to undress for him. She stalls as much as possible, then becomes physically sick and goes into the bathroom. After telling Gerhardt that he hates all women, Marian manages to stab him in the stomach with a nail file, before collapsing. Meanwhile, the boys attempt to leave by a window, and when Gerhardt tries to stop them, he is killed by a police marksman. Marian and the boys reunite.