- Genres: Crime, Film-Noir, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
Bud Corliss is born into a working-class family and raised by his mother after his father walked out. As an adult, he uses an uncanny ability to adapt his personality to any given situation to chase his dreams of wealth and success â€” to be achieved by any means necessary.
An overachiever, he is a stellar student in high school and is drafted into the service, returning as a decorated hero. The most pivotal moment in his life occurs during the war, when he corners, shoots and kills a Japanese soldier, who is so terrified of an American soldier with a gun that he wets his pants. Corliss is both elated by the total power he held over the soldier and disgusted by a display of terror he considers weak and unmanly. He makes up his mind then and there to never show any sign of vulnerability.
Upon returning to the U.S., he enrolls in college and meets Dorothy Kingship, the daughter of a wealthy copper tycoon. Seeing an opportunity to attain the riches he has always craved, he becomes Dorothy’s lover, but panics when she announces she is pregnant. He is sure that her stern, conservative father will disown her. Resolving to get rid of Dorothy, he tricks her into writing a letter that, to an unknowing observer, would look like a suicide note and then murders her. He runs no risk of getting caught, having urged Dorothy to keep their relationship a secret from her family and friends. He continues to live with his mother, who dotes on him and has no clue as to what he has done.
On a trip to one of the Kingship family’s copper manufacturing plants, Marion, her father and Grant all corner Corliss while he is standing over a vat of molten copper and threaten to expose him. Corliss frantically pleads his innocence, but they are unmoved. Realizing his luck has finally run out and that he is facing the electric chair, Corliss at last loses his composure and wets his pants â€” just as the Japanese soldier, his symbol of pathetic cowardice, had done. Delirious with panic and shame, Corliss lets go and falls to his death into the vat below.