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After overdosing on phenobarbitals, theater director Jim Downs is brought to a New York psychiatric hospital by his doting wife Ann. After she informs the doctors that she and her husband are currently separated, Dr. Barrow asks her why Jim is calling out the name Charlotte, and Ann becomes agitated. Explaining that Jim will reveal his true feelings in his half-conscious state, Dr. Barrow wakes Jim, who moans that he does not love Ann and wants only to die. After a few days, Jim has revived, and reacts with enthusiasm to Ann's news that a theater has called with a project for him. Before he can leave, however, he is examined by another psychiatrist, Dr. Schlesinger, and after Jim describes the despair at his poverty that drove him to attempt suicide, the doctor insists he stay in the hospital for an undetermined length of time. Outside, meanwhile, Ann refuses to allow Charlotte Moore, Jim's lover, to visit. The next day, Ann and Jim are interviewed together, and upon learning that he can only be released into her care, Jim grows upset and refuses to leave with her. He is transferred to Ward F, where patients Carlos O'Brien, John Ankoritis, Major and Schloss discuss the dreaded Ward 7, where violent offenders are placed. Although Jim grows more and more desperate to leave, a nurse informs him that he bears the burden of proving he is sane. With his new doctor, Bellman, Jim begins to sort through his history with Ann: They meet and marry when he is a stage manager and she an understudy, and with her consistent support and faith in his talent, Jim is soon promoted to director. Ann acts in his first production, and both receive stunning reviews. Their romance blossoms, but when Jim soon needs to cast big stars in his productions, Ann grows jealous and manipulative. They move to a large apartment and Ann becomes pregnant, but after Jim once again cannot provide her with a role in his next play and Ann miscarries, she grows despondent and withdraws. Soon, her life revolves only around Jim, and although she urges him to take a trip to London alone, she swears never to be apart again. During Jim's next production, Ann begins to give creative notes to the playwright, and the play flops. His career continues to suffer over the next few years, and the more that Ann tries to get involved, the more the press insinuates that Jim has no control over his directing. He asks her to visit her parents for a while, but after she leaves, Jim loses his confidence and fails once again. In his next play, he casts Charlotte, an unknown, and his head is turned by her talent and belief in him. At home, Ann subtly suggests that Jim should give up theater and work for her father and, furious, he walks out and never returns. Back in the doctor's office, Bellman declares that Jim must continue his treatment, causing Jim to miss his job interview. Bellman later confides in his nurse that he suspects Ann is like a shrike, a female bird that uses her sharp beak to contain and eventually impale her victims. Back in the ward, Jim watches as Schloss, a bigot, lies to the nurse that Carlos threatened him, and a terrified Carlos is sent to Ward 7. Charlotte sends a telegram, read to Jim by the nurse, informing him that Ann will not allow her to visit, and the nurse conjectures that Jim must leave Charlotte if he wants Ann's permission to leave the hospital. When Ann visits the next day, Jim rages about the hospital's tight control over his every move and begs her to put the past to rest. Ann responds by asking if Charlotte is in the past, too, and Jim's outburst almost dooms him to Ward 7. Later, Jim's brother Harry visits and advises him to swallow his pride for the next ten days, pretending to be a loving husband and model patient. Harry asks about Charlotte, and Jim confesses to his affair: After leaving Ann, Jim bumps into Charlotte, who remains encouraging and inspires him to try directing again. They fall in love, but he cannot muster the courage to divorce Ann, and when he completely runs out of money, he feels hopeless and attempts suicide. Soon after Harry leaves, Jim begins to feign contrition, agreeing to Ann's demand to write a letter to Charlotte, swearing that the affair is over. Bellman then calls Ann in to his office and questions her about her marriage, but after he implies that Ann's jealousy of Jim's work has made her want to turn him into a dependent child, she leaves in a fury. Jim's hospital stay is soon over, and he lies to the doctors' committee that he will return to Ann and take a job with her father. They release him, and he calls Ann to pick him up, crying. When she arrives, however, she reveals that Bellman has made her realize that she has been hurting Jim, and offers to leave him. Seeing that they both contributed equally to their problems, Jim states that they must work for their own happiness, and asks an elated Ann if they can try again.