This is the basic situation at the beginning of this black-and-white film of the Coen brothers. Ed would like to get out of his life, his town, his profession. He gets a chance when a travelling sales representative comes as a customer in the salon. He tells that dry-cleaning is the future, that would bring profits and that there's just a loss of investors. Ed visits him in his hotel room: with $10'000 Ed would be in. The problem: Ed isn't rich at all. Where should he take so much money from? His splendid idea: Anonymously blackmail Big Dave since this one is having an affair with Doris. Up to now, this hadn't bothered him much, but now he needs the money. Big Dave fears that he could lose his post at the store (that actually belongs to his wife Ann) if his affair became known and pays.
So far so good, you think. But Big Dave knows about Creighton's plans. So he thinks that this one is the blackmailer. He lets people beat information out of him. Subsequently he calls Ed to his office in the middle of the night. Doris, drunk from a family party, is at home sleeping. Ed takes her key and unsuspectingly goes to the department store. Big Dave however attacks Ed and Ed kills Big Dave out of self defense.
The next day, the police comes to the salon - not to arrest him but to tell him that his wife has been arrested. She seems to be the killer since she seems to have embezzled $10'000. In fact, she had manipulated the books to help Big Dave getting the money for the blackmail. The town's attorney Walter Abundas recommends the Top attorney from the big city Freddy Riedenschneider. While Ed and Frank try to get the money for the attorney and Freddy Riedenschneider starts creating a 'truth' of what had happened, Ed finds more and more comfort in Rachael's (or Birdy's) piano play, Walter's daughter. The events still follow hot on each other's heels. Since Ed sees his life falling into pieces he wants to help Birdy get a secure future as a pianist. He organises an auditioning at a piano teacher, which isn't successful. On their way back, Birdy causes an accident by her behaviour. When Ed regains conscience at the hospital, the police is ready to arrest him. Not because of Birdy or so, she is fine, but because of the murder of Creighton. Ed's life gets even more complicated, Freddy Riedenschneider tries to help him with the 'truth' as well, while the actual truth isn't considered at all.
The Film has rightly been called a jet-black tale of passion, jealousy, punishment and betray. Being in black-and-white creates the perfect atmosphere and moves you back in time. It's a special film, but very well-made and shows excellent performances of everyone involved.