powered by AFI
Released on parole after serving time for performing an illegal abortion, Dr. Calvin Crosse travels to the small New England island town of Stillfoot to work with his old mentor, Dr. Thorne. Once there, however, Cal learns that Thorne has passed away, leaving a truncated audio tape assuring Cal that he still believes in him and warning him about an unnamed epidemic raging on the island. Cal moves into the doctor's house and immediately is forced to confront the racism of the provincial townspeople, which he occasionally, purposefully enflames by combing his hair into an Afro and speaking with a ghetto accent. Soon, Sheriff Ozzie Whitehead is investigating him, while trying to control his dissolute daughter D. D., who is dating Bill Waco, a recently returned Vietnam War veteran who becomes friends with Cal. On Bill's fishing boat, Bill reassures Cal that the town will come to trust him, and when Cal questions him about an epidemic, insists that the townspeople are healthy. Soon after, Bill races to Cal's house and begs him to come to the dock, where Bill's younger brother has fallen into the ocean and lies unconscious. As the townspeople gather, Cal examines the boy, and although he sees immediately that the boy is faking his affliction, Bill urges Cal to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The boy soon revives and Cal, deducing that Bill has set up the situation to earn the townspeople's trust in Cal, leaves the applauding crowd in disgust. Later, however, the two laugh over the ruse. Each day, Cal watches through Dr. Thorne's telescope as the island's teenagers row over to the nearby lighthouse. One day, Bill visits Cal, and while searching through Dr. Thorne's things, find an educational film reel about venereal diseases that shows graphic images of syphilis victims. That night, the deranged lighthouse keeper, Jeremy Burke, pounds on Cal's door to complain of stomach pain and Cal notes symptoms of advanced syphilis. Plying the old man with alcohol, Cal convinces him to stay at his house for treatment and to divulge with whom he had sex. Armed with the name "Tassie," Cal goes to Whitehead, who refuses to give him any information about Tassie and insists his community is "clean." Cal tries to educate him about how easily syphilis spreads, but in the face of Whitehead's racism, storms out in anger. With Bill's help, Cal soon identifies Tassie as a country madam, and the two visit her and her three young prostitutes, Rhoda, Jeanie and Kathleen. While Whitehead has Jeremy removed from Cal's house and sends his thugs, Joe and Ed, to Tassie's, Cal and Bill inform Tassie that she may be the source of the syphilis outbreak, and although she is insulted, her girls convince her they should be tested. As Cal examines the girls, Joe and Ed arrive and pick a fight with Bill, who emerges victorious. Back at Cal's house, they find Jeremy gone, and because the old man is Cal's only proof of the epidemic, they set out in search of him. At the lighthouse, they narrowly evade Whitehead and his thugs and find only a group of teens enjoying an orgy. Soon after, Cal informs Tassie and the girls that they are all healthy. While Cal is still at Tassie's place, Whitehead and his men arrive but are disappointed when Tassie refuses to press harassment charges against Cal. After Cal reveals that Dr. Thorne told Whitehead four weeks ago about the epidemic, and that he has discovered that Jeremy hanged himself, most likely under duress, Joe, Ed and the prostitutes look at their sheriff in horror. Whitehead is forced to agree to a private discussion with Cal, who informs him about the sex party at the lighthouse, and voices his concern that Jeremy may have raped and infected some of the teenagers. When he mentions that D. D. was with the teens, however, Whitehead punches him, and Cal attacks the sheriff with a tree branch. Whitehead falls unconscious, and Tassie warns Cal to flee. He returns to his house to record all the information about the epidemic on a tape for Bill to send to the authorities. Just then D. D. appears at the door, beaten up by her father. Not knowing the tape is still running, D. D. begs Cal not to tell Bill about her escapades, then turns seductive. When Cal roughly refuses her, she says she and the other teens are merely bored and seek freedom from the town's strictures. After she reveals that some girls had sexual relations with Jeremy on a dare, Cal urges D. D. to shed her clothes, wanting only to examine her. He sees immediately that she has syphilitic sores, but D. D. is so upset that he tricked her that she runs out topless. Cal rushes to Bill's boat in an attempt to flee the island, but D. D. arrives moments later and accuses Cal of attempted rape. Bill informs the islanders, who form a posse and chase Cal as he rows a boat to the lighthouse and hides among the rocks. Meanwhile, Bill investigates Cal's house and finds the tape recording. As he listens, D. D. arrives and attempts to have sex with Bill, but when he hears on the tape what really happened, he pushes her away. Bill, as well as Whitehead, boat out to the lighthouse, where Cal has found a group of teenagers and is lecturing them about the disease. D. D. shows up soon after and climbs the lighthouse steps, and when Whitehead follows her, confesses that she knows that he gave syphilis to her mother, who passed it on to D. D. during childbirth and then died of the disease. Although she was born without symptoms, the disease is now manifesting, and to spurn her father she has vowed to spread it to everyone she can. After kissing her father on the mouth to infect him, D. D. joins Cal and urges the teens to seek treatment. Whitehead climbs to the top of the lighthouse and pulls out his gun. One of the teens tries to disable him by pulling the alarm, and the deafening noise causes Whitehead to fall to his death on the rocks. Days later, Bill and Cal reconcile, and Cal leads D. D. to mainland hospital where she can receive medical treatment.