The film, adapted from a book by novelist Alex Karmel, violated a number of Hollywood conventions and taboos by showing an on-screen rape and brief nudity. It featured a musical score by Aaron Copland and was filmed largely on location in New York City, which was rare at the time.
Well known stage actors of the era, such as Mildred Dunnock, Doris Roberts and Jean Stapleton, had roles in the movie. The director of photography, Eugen Schüfftan, was a noted German cinematographer, inventor of the Schüfftan process, who won the Academy Award the following year for The Hustler.
Mary Ann Robinson is a teenage girl attending college in New York City. On her way home, while walking through the park, she is brutally raped. Traumatized by the experience, Mary Ann washes away all the evidence and destroys her clothing. She hides the rape from her mother and stepfather, with whom she has a distant relationship.
Mary Ann tries to continue living her normal life, unsuccessfully. She takes the subway to school and faints during the crush of people. That results in the police taking her home, which upsets her prim and unsympathetic mother, played by Mildred Dunnock.
The rape continues to haunt Mary Ann. She leaves school abruptly and walks downtown, through Harlem and Times Square, down to the Lower East Side. She rents a room from a sinister landlord (Martin Kosleck), who overcharges her. She takes a job at a five-and-dime store and her coworkers dislike her because she is distant and unfriendly. Her crude, promiscuous neighbor at the rooming house (Jean Stapleton) is rebuffed when she tries to be friendly.
At the end of her tether, Mary Ann walks across the Manhattan Bridge and almost jumps in the East River when she is stopped by a sympathetic mechanic, Mike (Ralph Meeker). At first he seems to be a knight in shining armor. She decides to stay with him. But that night he comes home drunk, tries to attack her, and Mary Ann kicks him in the eye. The following morning he has no recollection of that, but his eye is badly hurt and has to be removed.
Mike now says that he wants Mary Ann to stay there, saying "I like the way you look here." She wants to leave but he refuses to let her go. He holds her captive in the apartment for months, even though she refuses to have anything to do with him.
One day Mike leaves the door unlocked. Mary Ann leaves, walks through the city, sleeps in Central Park, and now she sees how wonderful life is. She goes back to the apartment and decides to stay with Mike, voluntarily. She marries Mike and rebuffs her mother's attempt to get her to return home.
However, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said that it was "quite exhausting to sit through that ordeal in the apartment." and that "it is not too satisfying, because it isn't quite credible and the symbolic meaning (if there is one) is beyond our grasp."
The movie was not a commercial success, and was Jack Garfein's final project as a movie director.
The film was never released on DVD or home video. It was shown at New York's IFC Center in early 2007, billed as a "lost indie film classic."