When I watched this, I had no idea that this was a remake of a 1938 Swedish film starring Ingrid Bergman. It was not till I found out this out afterward that the Swedish setting made sense, although it still didn’t work. Although none of the actors are actually Swedish, some of them seem more Swedish than others. While Conrad Veidt and Osa Massen are clearly European, Melvyn Douglas and Marjorie Main are as quintessentially American as they are in every other film they appear in, and it is somewhat disorientating to see them play characters named Gustaf Segert and Emma Kristiansdotter, and this unbalance is one of the few flaws in the film.
Joan Crawford plays a woman whose face was disfigured in a fire caused by her drunk father. She grows up both scarred and bitter, and when the narrative starts, she is the leader of a gang of criminals. Her specialty is blackmail, and she she is practicing this on the wife of a famed doctor, he discovers her, and sees her disfigurement as a kind of professional challenge and performs a series of surgeries that makes her face beautiful. She moves up north to work as the governess of the grandson of a rich industrialist.She is then torn between continuing her criminal pursuits, and starting to live honestly, and similarly finds herself between two men, a rich playboy who is trying to lure her back into her criminal past, namely by killing the little boy, and the doctor who changed her life, who believes she is a good person inside.
The role was quite a departure for Crawford, who was still in her MGM glamour girl days, although she had stared in two heavily dramatic films in the previous year: Strange Cargo and Susan and God. Here she not only had to work with heavy makeup for half of the film, but also plays the most challenging role in her career up to that time, portraying a woman filled with wickedness as the beginning, who slowly learns caring and compassion. Director George Cukor is also branching off in a new direction, working in the genre of the thriller for the first time, something he would return to and perfect in 1944 with Gaslight.