Frank Chambers (Jack Nicholson), a drifter, stops at a rural California diner for a meal, and ends up working there. The diner is operated by a young, beautiful woman, Cora Smith (Jessica Lange), and her much older husband, Nick Papadakis (John Colicos), who is an immigrant from Greece. Frank and Cora have an affair. Cora (a femme fatale figure) is tired of her situation, married to a man she does not love, and working at a diner that she wishes to own and improve. She and Frank scheme to murder Nick in order to start a new life together without her losing the diner. Their first attempt at the murder is a failure, but they eventually succeed. The local prosecutor suspects what has actually occurred, but does not have enough evidence to prove it. As a tactic intended to get Cora and Frank to turn on one another, he tries only Cora for the crime. Although they do turn against each other, a clever ploy from Cora's lawyer prevents Cora's full confession from coming into the hands of the prosecutor. With the tactic having failed to generate any new evidence for the prosecution, Cora is ultimately acquitted. Frank and Cora eventually patch together their tumultuous relationship, and now plan for a future together. But as they seem to be prepared finally to live "happily ever after", Cora dies in a car accident.