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An ambitious newspaperman, Johnny Barrett, induces his stripper girl friend, Cathy, to pose as his sister and have him committed to a mental institution so he can investigate the unsolved knife murder of one of the patients. Three inmates witnessed the crime: Stuart, a former soldier brainwashed in Korea who now believes he is a Civil War general; Trent, a Negro broken by the ordeal of having been the first nonwhite to enroll at a southern university; and Boden, a former nuclear scientist whose mind has deteriorated to that of a 6-year-old child. While pretending to be a patient, Barrett is attacked by a group of nymphomaniacs, placed in a straitjacket after a riot, and forced to undergo shock therapy. Eventually he learns from Boden that the murderer is a hospital attendant, Wilkes, whose motivation arose from the need to suppress the revelation that he was having sexual relations with some of the female patients. After extracting a confession from Wilkes, Barrett is released and goes on to write an exposé, which is awarded a Pulitzer Prize. But the experience has been too much for him: he suffers a mental collapse and is returned to the institution.