Set in between the two World Wars, Noelle Page is born to a poor family in Marseille, France, though she is led to believe she is better than everyone else. She is initially devoted to her father, who capitalizes on her beauty when she comes of age and forces her to be the mistress of Auguste Lanchon, a well-off boutique owner. She comes to an epiphany that if she can control men, she can be powerful. She escapes to Paris, where she is enchanted by American pilot Lawrence “Larry” Douglas, who promises to marry her when he returns from London. When he does not return, she develops pneumonia, and is saved by Jewish medical intern Israel Katz, who selflessly helps her get back on her feet. Furious over Larry’s betrayal, she aborts their unborn child in the most painful way and devotes the rest of her life planning revenge against him. Meanwhile, Larry returns to the United States and marries Catherine, though their relationship is strained after World War II, since Catherine feels like Larry returned as a different man.
Noelle uses the war to her advantage. She hires a private investigator and learns of Larry and Catherine’s marriage. She seduces two men, actor-singer Philippe Sorel and director Armand Gautier, and becomes a popular name in theater and film. At one point, she risks her plan to help Israel — the only man who has treated her with kindness — escape to Africa from the Nazis. She attracts the attention of Constantin “Costa” Demiris, a powerful Greek whose business extends to every industry in the world. She becomes his mistress and moves to his private villa. She learns that Larry is having a difficult time adjusting to a regular life and his aggressive pilot skills make him unsuited to a commercial airline setting, and convinces Demiris to hire him. Larry and Catherine move to Greece for his new job, and Noelle discovers that Larry does not even remember her. She treats him poorly as an employee, pushing him to angrily rape her when she emasculates him. She gets excited and falls in love with him again. Larry cannot recall her claims of their past, but stays with her for her power. However, he becomes unsettled when his co-pilot and his other mistress, Helena — two people compromising his and Noelle’s relationship — suddenly disappear. Noelle insists that Larry and Catherine, whose marriage is at its lowest point, divorce so they can be together. When Catherine constantly refuses and fails an attempted suicide, Noelle plots to kill her. Larry abandons her in a sea cave on their trip, but is forced to return for her when the coast guard notices him exiting alone. Catherine tries to tell the doctor about Larry’s plot to kill her, but the doctor thinks she is hallucinating. Catherine wakes up in the middle of the night and overhears Larry and Noelle plotting her death and she escapes during a heavy thunderstorm. She goes into a boat, but falls overboard, apparently drowning.
Catherine’s claims against them lead Larry and Noelle to be put on trial for her murder. Demiris is noticeably absent, but visits Noelle in jail. He claims to still love her and offers to pay the judge off if she will stay with him forever. Towards the end of the trial, Demiris’ lawyer, Napoleon Chotas, informs Larry, Noelle, and Larry’s lawyer Starvos that Demiris made a deal with the judge: if they plead guilty, Larry will be banned from Greece and will serve a short sentence in America while Noelle’s passport will be taken and she will stay with him forever. They both agree to the deal. However, after pleading guilty, they realize that there was never a deal made when the judge thanks them for having a conscience and admitting to the murder despite the lack of evidence against them. Chotas offers Starvos a position in his firm in exchange for his silence. They are sentenced to death, and Demiris, sitting in the courtroom, looks pleased. They are executed months later.
In the end, Demiris donates money to a convent near the sea, where a woman implied to be Catherine is kept, having been found on the shore
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