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As the bells of midnight chime across New York City, chemist Jeff Carter shocks his old college classmate, prominent attorney Brandon, by opening his valise to reveal a disembodied head. Jeff then tells his friend how he became a murderer: Although he is a brilliant chemist, the idealistic Jeff lives on a tight budget with his wife Mary while his employer, Roger Graham, gets the credit and riches from Jeff's discoveries. When Roger insists on marketing an untested drug, however, Jeff finally quits. Unable to get another research job because of Roger's blacklisting, Jeff is forced to work as a pharmacist at a small drugstore. Years later, the struggling Roger goes to the chemist's home and offers to give Jeff back his old job, with complete control and greater financial rewards. Jeff turns Roger down, but when Mary rages that she is tired of living sparsely and reminds him that he has his son Tommy's welfare to take into account, Jeff accepts the position. Later, while working on a new drug called Zymurgine, Jeff informs Roger that he must go to South America to test the mold of a rare plant. Roger readily agrees, hoping to court Mary while Jeff and his assistant, Dave Curtis, are out of the country. When a flu epidemic strikes New York, Roger immediately begins manufacturing and marketing Zymurgine, using one of Jeff's discarded formulas. Meanwhile, Jeff successfully concludes his experiments in South America and sends the perfected formula to Roger, but the drug manufacturer refuses to stop production and continues to sell the defective version. Tommy soon catches the flu and becomes another victim of Roger's greed when Mary, against the advise of her personal physician, Dr. Williams, gives him the commercial version of Zymurgine. Armed with a gun, Mary goes to Graham's apartment intent on murder, but he easily disarms her. Jeff then arrives and, having gone temporarily insane upon hearing of his son's death, grabs a knife off the wall and hacks off Roger's head. Mary and the police arrive as Jeff finishes telling Brandon his story. As the chemist is taken into custody, Brandon promises Mary that he will defend Jeff in court and do everything he can for her husband.