The Cheat (1931) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Love, lust, possession, money, social standing, and addiction. Elsa Carlyle is impulsive and a gambler; though loved by her husband Jeff, she's spoiled and selfish, concerned with social standing. Meanwhile, Jeff wants to keep a lid on spending while he completes business deals that could make them rich. One night, on a hunch, she bets and loses big at a casino, then she doubles her problems with more impulsive decisions. Hardy Livingston, a wealthy Casanova just back from the Orient, makes a play for her. Elsa dallies with Hardy, but soon, his insistence and her dire financial affairs seem destined to lead to adultery. Who's the cheat?

  • Woman in debt makes an impulsive investment which doesn't go her way.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The film begins with a shot of The Dunes Yacht Club of Long Island. It dissolves to the interior, where the rich are sitting around a table and talking. The president of the club hands the heroine (Else Carlyle, played by Tallulah Bankhead) a note for Hardy Livingstone, played by Irving Pichel. She is gambling for coins. The President of the club introduces Livingstone in a loud voice, as a man who is a little bit dangerous with the ladies, and who has spent years in the orient. Livingstone says he will be proud to be able to act as host for the clubs fund raising party. Elsa leaves the dining room to go to the casino room. Cut to outside the dining room, where Elsa's husband, Jeffrey (Harvey Stephens) meets an old friend, who is drinking outside by himself. The friend asks why Jeffrey is often absent at the club, and Jeffrey answers that he is making money for the woman he loves. Cut to Elsa gambling at cards and overhearing Livingstone talking about tigers, and luck and training women to be obedient. Elsa loses, and stands up to leave but plays the croupier double or nothing on a cut of the cards, and loses $10,000. Elsa walks out of the club onto the pier. Livingstone, who had his eye on her, follows her. Livingstone invites Elsa to his house for Japanese wine. They go by boat. Livingstone's house is exotic and sinister. At one point a door opens to reveal Yama the god of destruction. Another door reveals Livingstone's past wax dolls, representing women. Once they were lovely women who were kind to me, he remarks. At that moment, a servant comes in carrying sakè and sakè cups. Livingstone tells the servant to produce the Siamese gown, and the servant does so. Elsa refuses to accept Livingstone's offer of the gown, and insists on leaving. When they return to the pier near the club, Jeffrey is waiting for them. Elsa introduces Livingstone to Jeffrey. Livingstone excuses himself. Jeffrey insists that Elsa should control her expenses, and that they will have all the money they want when his deal comes through. Elsa uses the excuse to ask for $10,000, but insists she was joking about that. After the money is collected for the Milk Fund Bazaar, Livingstone picks up Elsa and drives her to his house where he takes her and the Siamese gown to her house. The croupier is waiting for her; he threatens to show the IOU to her husband unless she pays what she owes him. She puts into her safe the money she has received at the Milk Fund Bazaar. Jeffrey enters and complains to her about her bills for clothes. Jeffrey and Elsa go to a speakeasy, where they met Jeffreys friend, who tries to talk Jeffrey into buying stock in United Copper. The friend swears that it will double in value in a week. Jeffrey ignores him, but Elsa is interested. On the next day, Elsa invests $10,000 with Jeffreys friend, and tells him not to mention her investment to Jeffrey. That evening, Elsa puts on Livingstone's Siamese gown over Jeffreys objections. At the party at Livingstone's house, she gets a phone call from Jeffreys friend; he tells her that he has lost all of the money she had taken from the Milk Fund Bazaar. Elsa is desperate. Livingstone comes in, and she tells him everything. Livingstone offers to give her the money if she comes to see him. On the next day, after she pays the money for the Bazaar, she goes home, and Jeffrey informs her that his deal has come through, and that they are rich. But at that moment, Livingstone calls and reminds her of her promise to visit him. After the call, Elsa turns to Jeffrey and asks for money. Jeffrey tells her that he has already paid her gambling debt, but writes a check when she says it is something else. Livingstone is playing with the doll in the Siamese gown when she arrives. She tries to buy Livingstone off with the check, but he wants what she had promised him the other day. She says she would rather kill herself, so Livingston takes a pistol from his drawer and suggests she do so. Were behaving outrageously. You're not the kind of man she says. You don't know what kind of man I am, but Ill show you. He brands her with his seal, and she shoots him, and runs out. Jeffrey comes in, finds the gun and tries to wipe her fingerprints off. Livingstone's servants come in and see him with the gun. The next day, Elsa sees in the newspaper that Jeffrey is in jail, and goes to visit him there. She feels that the whole affair is her own fault, but he swears her to silence. In court, Livingstone's servant says that he saw Jeffrey with the gun that had shot Livingston. Livingstone says on the stand that Jeffrey had tried to cheat him out of paying a gambling debt, and had shot him. Jeffrey refuses to deny what Livingstone said, so Elsa shouts out that Livingstone had wanted her, and branded her; so she shot him, and reveals the brand. The court erupts and the judge drops the charges against Jeffrey. Elsa promises not to gamble any more.

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