Orson Welles, as judge Rauch, holds a lengthy trial against Jess Tyler, a caretaker deserted by his wife ten years before, who's accused of improper relations with his daughter Kady. Complications follows when Wash, father of Kady's baby, comes back to take her away.
Set in the year 1937 in a small Nevada desert mining town, Jess Tyler (Stacey Keach) is a hermit who works in a disused silver mine as the caretaker. His wife deserted him 10 years earlier, and his teenage daughter Kady (Pia Zadora) ran off and gave birth to the illegitimate child of a rich man, named Wash Gillespie (Edward Albert), who refused to marry her. Wash's father (Ed McMahon) owns the mine, so Kady decides its riches should belong to her. She returns home and tries to persuade Jess to let her have it, going to any length, including the seduction of her own father. Death and mystery ensue, leading to a climatic trial presided over by Judge Rauch (Orson Welles) to decide the fate of the scandalous Kady when rumors of improper relations with Jess circulate around town.
Il giudice Rauch deve dirimere un difficile processo contro Jess Tyler, il guardiano della miniera, abbandonato dieci anni prima dalla moglie, accusato di rapporti intimi con la giovane, attraente e fin troppo vivace figlia Kady. La faccenda si complica quando in paese arriva Wash, padre del neonato di Kady, arrivato per portarla via con se.
In 1937 Nevada, silver mine caretaker Jess Tyler is reunited with his teenage daughter Kady who will do anything to persuade Jess to let her have claim to the mine.
- At the Arizona-Nevada border in 1937, a seventeen-year-old girl hitches a ride with a truck driver going toward the town of Good Springs. She seduces him, and he pulls the truck over to the side of the road. When the truck stops, she grabs her suitcase and runs over the hill toward a small shack belonging to a rugged-looking man named Jess Tyler. The girl questions him about his marriage to Belle Morgan, with whom he had two children before Belle left to be with her lover, Moke Blue. The girl reveals that she is Kady, one of Jess's daughters. Over dinner, Kady explains that she and her sister, Janey, grew up in a boarding house for miners, and that Belle has fallen ill. Kady also has a one-month-old son named Danny. Although Jess initially refuses to let Kady stay with him, her tears change his mind. As he readies for bed, he becomes distracted watching Kady's silhouette undressing behind a screen.
The next morning, Jess finds Kady inspecting the abandoned silver mine that sits on the hill above the house. The owner, Mr. Gillespie, shut the mine down, but Kady thinks that there could be enough silver remaining to provide her and Jess with a better life. Jess accuses Kady of only chasing after money, but she admits that the father of her child is Mr. Gillespie's son, Wash, who refused to marry her because of her poor family history. Jess takes her to church, where they see Ed Lamey, a relative of Moke Blue who scavenges mines. When the preacher tells Kady that she must cleanse herself of sin, she takes offense and storms off down the road.
The next morning, a man drops Kady off at Jess's shack. She tells her father that she spent the night at a girl friend's house, but refuses to give more details. She decides to leave, but he convinces her to stay by promising to search the mine for silver chips. As he kisses her brow to soothe her headache, she caresses his face, but he pulls away. Despite spending the entire next day in the mine, they do not find any silver. Later, while taking a bath, Jess gives Kady an intimate massage. She encourages his touch, but his conscience forces him to stop.
The next day in the mine, Jess and Kady find $210 worth of silver ore. Their voices echo through the tunnels, and Ed Lamey overhears the news of their plunder. After Kady and Jess use the money to buy new clothes, they visit the local diner. When Kady tries to leave with two men, Jess becomes jealous and starts a fight. As a result, Jess and Kady are forced to pay twelve dollars in damages to Judge Rauch. Critical of Kady's hyper-sexual body language and appearance, the judge accuses her of being an unruly youth and scolds her father for not sending her to reform school.
When Jess and Kady leave the courthouse, they return home to find that Janey and Kady's baby, Danny, have arrived. Janey announces that Wash has decided to marry Kady, and Jess notices a strange butterfly-shaped birthmark on Danny's abdomen. The next morning, when Wash arrives in his expensive convertible, Kady accepts his proposal. After asking Jess's permission and promising that Kady will be well provided for, Wash declares that they will marry in two days.
That evening, Moke Blue and Ed Lamey bring Belle to visit, but she collapses in a coughing fit and has to be put to bed. On the porch, Moke Blue slyly suggests to Wash that Mr. Gillespie should put Jess in charge of the mine. When Moke Blue goes inside to tend to Belle, she attempts to stab him with a hat pin, but he throws her aside and kills her.
At Belle's funeral, Ed Lamey's suspicious smile causes Jess to realize Ed knows something about the mine. Jess runs into the tunnel and discovers Moke Blue, shirtless, stealing chunks of silver ore. Jess spots a butterfly-shaped birthmark near Moke Blue's navel, which prompts him to believe that Moke Blue is Danny's real father. Disgusted to discover that Moke Blue had sex with Kady, Jess shoots him in the stomach. Before dying, Moke Blue explains that the birthmark only occurs in males, and reveals that Kady is also his daughter. Jess drags Moke Blue deeper into the mine and leaves his body covered in rubble.
At the hotel where the Gillespies are lodging, Jess meets with Mr. Gillespie and his wife, Helen, to inform them that Danny is Moke Blue's son, not Wash's. Jess tells Wash it would be best for him to never see Kady again. As a result, Wash never arrives to retrieve Kady on the day of their wedding. The next morning, Jess and Kady kiss on the hillside, where they are seen by Ed Lamey.
Once inside the mine, Jess and Kady make love and excavate more silver. The police arrive shortly afterward and arrest them on charges of incest. When Judge Rauch sentences Jess to ten years in prison, Jess claims that he raped Kady so that she can avoid facing a similar sentence. But Kady refuses to allow him to perjure himself and admits to the court that she had wanted to have sex with him. Jess reveals that Moke Blue is Kady's real father, prompting Ed Lamey to proclaim that he and Moke Blue were actually half brothers who shared a mother. After comparing baby Danny and Ed Lamey's birthmarks that prove their relation and disproves Kady and Jess's incest, the judge allows Jess and Kady to walk free.
In the final scene, Kady leaves town with Wash because he can provide a good life for Danny, but she promises that Jess will always be her "daddy." But in the final shot, as Jess gets back into his truck and drives away to return to the mine, another truck with Ed Lamey driving it begins to follow him... implying that Lamey might seek revenge against Jess for his slander in the courtroom.