Nineteenth century Maine, and in a rural location, Jenny Hager (Hedy Lamarr) was brought up alone by her alcoholic father (Dennis Hoey). As a little girl, she began to learn how to get her own way, manipulating everyone around her, and making sure they all knew not to mess with her, even going as far as nearly drowning one of her schoolfriends in the local lake before trying to appear as if it were she who saved his life. Her father sees through this subterfuge, and when she defies him as a teenager, determined to win herself a rich man to marry to give her the freedom she needs to follow her heart's desires, he beats her with his belt - which she loves...
Not long after that the exertion sees him collapsing from a heart attack and expiring, allowing his daughter to put her plans into motion, in this, a film that was based on the work of author Ben Ames Williams whose Leave Her to Heaven had been a significant hit the year before for Gene Tierney. She had the benefit of Technicolor to show off her good looks, but one star who was advertised as the most beautiful the movies had ever seen had to make do with black and white for this non-studio (or non-major studio) picture of one of Williams' efforts that was, if anything, even more scandalously written, with a heroine who would now be termed a sadomasochist.
Now, this was 1946, and despite the fact that millions of cinemagoers had witnessed some truly horrendous sights in the previous few years, and the grimmer tone of film noir was reflecting that, there was no way the Production Code was going to allow a heroine who relished a sexual thrill from humiliating and even killing those she regarded as her playthings. Nevertheless, Lamarr had personally chosen Edgar G. Ulmer to direct this effort, a filmmaker who liked to examine the darker side of the soul in his (usually) low budget oeuvre, and he was not about to let at least a degree or two of the kinky nature of the novel get by him, so when in the early stages Jenny is whipped, her pleasure was all over Lamarr's face.
However, for reasons best known to themselves the project did not want to present Jenny as irredeemable, therefore they rendered her as sympathetic up to a point, offering her forgiveness as she does not have a complete grasp on the twisted impulses that drive her onwards, indeed in some scenes it's as if she can barely comprehend why she is acting the way she does. The simple answer would be that she wanted power, and money could supply that, and it was the men who had the money, so she would be well-advised to wrap them around her little finger to fulfil her wishes, but in Lamarr's performance, one of her strongest, we are in no doubt of the perversity that also compels Jenny to make sure she has the upper hand in every situation, stemming from her sexuality rather than her intellect.
Ulmer had it that her compulsions could be equated with the harshness of the natural environment, nowhere more than in the sequence where she pulls various strings to wrestle logging captain George Sanders (logging captain?!) away from her childhood friend Meg (Hillary Brooke, regular foil on The Abbott and Costello TV show). There is a storm raging around the cabin where both of them shelter, and after she chases away the horses with the carriage Sanders goes out to see the torrential weather, and when Jenny embraces him and goes in for a torrid kiss, the fire started by a lightning strike rages in the background, framing them in silhouette. It's an image that should be sheerest camp, but somehow it’s Lamarr's conviction that sells it (it certainly isn't the bizarrely-cast Sanders!). Earlier Jenny has ensured her rich, elderly husband (Gene Lockhart) and the son (Louis Hayward) who loved her have met sticky ends, so her moralistic fate was written well before, but the actress proved she was every bit the measure of a role she did not get too often, when typecast as decoration. If only they could have explained her Austrian accent... Music by Carmen Dragon.