In New York in 1848, a young Frenchwoman, Madeline Minot (Leslie Caron), arrives, looking for expatriate Charles Thevenet (Louis Calhern). She is initially turned away at the door by his mistress and housekeeper, Lorna Bounty (Barbara Stanwyck), but persists and presents Thevenet with a letter of introduction from his only grandson, Paul, a romantic revolutionary with whom Madeline is in love.
Thevenet, a wealthy, old, dissipated rake, correctly guesses Madeline's purpose in visiting him; she has been sent by Paul to ask him for money to support the revolution in France. Lorna, assisted by hulking butler Martin (Joe De Santis) and cook Mrs. Flynn (Margaret Wycherly) are also after Thevenet's fortune, having waited for the old man to die for ten years. To that end, the trio let Thevenet drink as much as he wants, contrary to the instructions of Dr. Roland (Nicholas Joy), and replace some prescribed medicine.
Madeline has one ally, Dupin (Joseph Cotten), an impecunious, heavy-drinking poet (to whom the film's title refers). A chance acquaintance, she turns to him when she suspects the medicine has been poisoned. They take it to a pharmacist, who finds it to be sugar water. Dupin becomes acquainted with Lorna and recognizes her as a former actress who achieved fame with Thevenet's backing.
During her stay in Thevenet's townhouse, Madeline softens the old reprobate's heart. He summons his lawyer, Durand (Richard Hale), and changes his will. Then he secretly puts arsenic in his drink, ready to end his life. However, he suffers a stroke that paralyzes him, leaving him only partial control of his face. He watches helplessly as Durand drinks the fatal brandy. The will is then snatched up by Thevenet's pet raven and hidden in the fireplace. Before the old man dies, he tries to pass along to Dupin the location of the will solely with his eyes.
Lorna guesses that there is a new will and its contents. After the funeral, she and her accomplices search desperately for it without success. Dupin is more perceptive; from the clues, he finds and retrieves the document, though he has to fight Martin off to escape the house alive. When the will is read, it reveals that Paul does inherit the money; Lorna, Martin and Mrs. Flynn are left only the house.
At the end of the film, Madeline goes looking for Dupin to thank him. Dupin's generous bartender Flaherty (Jim Backus) tells her he has gone, leaving only a seemingly worthless IOU for his sizable bar bill. On one side is a draft of a verse about a woman named Annabel Lee, and on the other, the IOU's signature, which reveals Dupin's real name: Edgar Allan Poe.
Markle originally wanted Marlene Dietrich for the role of the scheming maid and Lionel Barrymore for the ailing millionaire, but Barrymore was too ill and when Marlene said no, Stanwyck jumped in. During filming, Stanwyck was going through a difficult divorce with actor husband Robert Taylor.
The dramatic score for the film was composed and conducted by David Raksin. In his score, he wrote for an uncommon ensemble of instruments - 2 flutes, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 1 bassoon; 1 horn, 1 trumpet, 1 trombone; 1 percussion, and a solo viola d’amore - and included a musical clue to the identity of Dupin. He also employed a tone row in the main title theme, claimed to be the first used in film.
"Another Yesterday", the song performed onscreen by Barbara Stanwyck, was written by Earl K. Brent and dubbed by vocalist Harriet Lee.
The complete score by Raksin was issued on cd in 2009, on Film Score Monthly records.He shares the same name as Poe's famous detective.
He is a heavy drinker.
He runs up a large bar bill which he cannot pay.
The presence of a raven, as a pet of the old man.
According to MGM records the film earned $441,000 in the US and Canada and $322,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $455,000.