Cast & Crew
In 1841, in the small Morovian village of Skalni Hradec, Lita, the wife of Town Judge Raphael Vojnar, complains to her stern husband about the public punishment of a woman accused of adultery. Vojnar dismisses Lita's concerns and warns her that if he ever catches her being unfaithful, he will kill her. Soon after, at a town dance, Lita runs into Quirin Michael, her longtime sweetheart who left their village five years earlier to join the hussars, after being unfairly jailed by Vojnar. After serving with the army for five years, the rebellious Quirin has returned to help his ailing, rich uncle, Karel Sima, with his harvest. Quirin and Lita are delighted to be reunited, and although she tries to dissuade his attentions, when he shows up under her window the next night while Vojnar is out of town, she cannot resist letting him inside. During her rendezvous with Quirin, Lita explains that she married the much-older judge because her father was in trouble and facing imprisonment. Vojnar arranged for the charges to be dropped in exchange for Lita's hand in marriage. The lovers spend the night together, and the next morning, when Vojnar returns home, he learns that Sima was stabbed to death during the night. Quirin, Sima's sole heir, is the only suspect, especially after he refuses to explain where he was at the time of the murder. When the murder weapon is found, Quirin emphatically states that it is not his, but is unable to produce his own, pearl-handled knife, which he asserts has been lost. In private, Lita tries to convince Vojnar of Quirin's good character, but Vojnar, who knows of Quirin's troublesome past, doubts her. He also tells her that the council members, jealous of the handsome Quirin's influence over their wives and daughters, are pressuring him to arrest Quirin, as his silence indicates that he is protecting a woman with whom he was having an illicit rendezvous. Worried, Lita asks her maid Anushka to provide Quirin with an alibi. Meanwhile, the local gendarme tells Vojnar that some of Sima's field hands overheard Sima violently quarreling with the Honza Kratky, a slow-witted, religious peasant, but Vojnar refuses to take the matter seriously. Later that night, the judge discovers Quirin's pearl-handled knife under Lita's window and suspects the worst, but Lita tells her husband that Anushka, who is engaged, has confessed to carrying on a secret affair with Quirin, and begs him to clear Quirin without revealing Anushka's involvement. Beguiled by his pretty wife, Vojnar agrees, and tells the council members that although he cannot tell them who it is, a woman has stepped forward to provide Quirin with an alibi. Anushka's fear of Vojnar soon arouses his suspicion, prompting Lita secretly to offer the maid a silk dress and valuable necklace in return for her continued silence. Soon after, Lita and Quirin steal a few moments alone, and Quirin asks her to run away with him. Lita is doubtful that they will be successful, however, and leaves. Later, Sima's missing gold watch is found in the cornfield behind Quirin's shack, prompting the council members to wonder why Vojnar does not arrest Quirin, and if the woman Vojnar is protecting is Lita. When Vojnar then spots Anushka wearing Lita's dress and necklace, he deduces the truth and follows the maid into the church, where he coerces her into revealing that she lied about being with Quirin. Anushka then disappears, worrying Lita that she will not be able to support Quirin's alibi. She confronts Vojnar, who, fearful of appearing cuckolded, reveals that he knows the truth and warns her that no one will believe her if she tries to protect Quirin by "lying" that he was with her on the night of the murder. The next day, Vojnar tells the council that he has learned that the woman substantiating Quirin's alibi was lying and announces that he will have Quirin arrested soon. Lita seeks out her lover and tells him that she is willing to run away with him, and Quirin promises to get some money for their journey. Meanwhile, Anushka has fled to the local priest, and although he plans to bring her back to Vojnar, she raves that the judge is "the Devil." Back at the council meeting, after the others leave, member Brazda informs Vojnar that he has seen Lita with Quirin, causing the infuriated judge to scream at Brazda, driving him from the room. Late that night, Honza comes to Vojnar's house and confesses that he killed Sima because he did not believe in the Lord. Vojnar tries to convince the peasant that he is delusional and actually saw Quirin commit the crime, but when Honza sticks to his story, Vojnar stabs him to death with Quirin's pearl-handled knife, not realizing that Lita is watching. In the morning, Vojnar summons Quirin to his chamber, and after showing him the knife, tricks him into signing a statement acknowledging that it is his. Vojnar then announces to the council that Honza came to him during the night and revealed that he saw Quirin kill Sima. Vojnar claims that he hid Honza in his tool shed, but when he came out in the morning, he found Honza dead, stabbed to death with Quirin's knife. Quirin is arrested and taken away, after which the judge finds Lita packing, supposedly to visit her sister. When she learns of Quirin's predicament, she vows to tell the counsel that Vojnar is Honza's murderer, but Vojnar laughs, telling her that Quirin will hang, and that her life sentence will be served in his arms. Just then, they realize that the priest and Anushka, who arrived moments earlier, have heard the whole exchange. Lita is overjoyed but Vojnar, desperate, strangles his unfaithful wife to death. Days later, vultures circle as the judge is led to his hanging.
Leonard J. Shapiro
The literary source is credited onscreen as "Based upon the prize-winning novelette The Peasant Judge by Oskar Jellinek." Hugo Haas's onscreen credit reads: "Written, Produced and Directed by Hugo Haas." The opening credits contain the following written prologue: "This strange story of sin and evil happened more than one hundred years ago in an old Moravian village." The film ends with a written epilogue stating "'As the whirlwind passeth, so are the wicked no more...' Proverbs 692-25."
Although he is not credited onscreen, Arnold Phillips is listed by a February 1951 Los Angeles Times news item and a September 2, 1951 New York Times article as Haas's collaborator on the film's story. According to June 1951 news items, Zsa Zsa Gabor was originally set to play "Lita Vojnar." Hollywood Reporter news items include Dan Barton, Wayne Tredway, Tempe Pigott and Michael Mark in the cast, but their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.