The film was highly controversial in its time largely because of a nude swimming scene. It is also perhaps the first non-pornographic movie to portray sexual intercourse, although never showing more than the actors’ faces. It has also been called the first on-screen depiction of a female orgasm.
Emil (Zvonimir Rogoz), a precise, orderly older man, carries his happy new bride Eva (Hedy Lamarr) over the threshold of their home. (In a foreshadowing, he has great difficulty opening the lock on the front door, trying key after key.) She is greatly disappointed on her wedding night; he doesn’t even come to bed. After living in the unconsummated marriage for a while, she can’t bear it any longer and runs back to her father (Leopold Kramer), a horse breeder. A divorce is issued.
One day, she takes her horse riding. She goes skinny dipping, leaving her clothes on the animal, only to have it wander off, attracted by another locked in a corral. She chases after it all over the countryside. The horse is finally caught by Adam (Aribert Mog), the virile young foreman or engineer of a road construction gang. Seeing this, she hides in the bushes, where he finds her. At first, she is ashamed of her nudity, but then she glares at him in defiance. He gives her back her clothes. When she tries to leave, she hurts her foot. At first, she resists his efforts to help, then accedes.
That night, she can’t stop thinking about him. Finally, she goes to his isolated residence. After some hesitation, they embrace and spend the night together. Her pearl necklace is removed and she forgets to take it with her the next morning.
When she returns home, she finds an unwelcome visitor, her ex-husband, who has been waiting for her all night. He tries to reconcile with her, but she tells him that it is too late. He leaves.
By chance, while driving away, he encounters his rival. Adam guides him through the construction and asks for a ride into town. On the way, he shows the necklace, which Emil recognizes. Emil considers driving into an approaching train at a crossing, but thinks better of it.
That night, he sits alone in a hotel room, while a fly tries futilely to get out through a closed window and several others are shown trapped in flypaper. Downstairs, Adam and Eva are dancing when Emil shoots himself. Adam does not know of the connection between Emil and Eva, and she does not tell him.
The young couple had planned to take the train to Berlin. While waiting for it at the station, Adam falls asleep and a distraught Eva leaves on a different one without him. Adam returns to his work and, while coworkers go about their jobs cheerfully, he sees a woman with a baby and daydreams sadly of Eva with a baby of her own.
On 10 August 1933 she married Friedrich Mandl, a Vienna-based arms manufacturer 13 years her senior. In her autobiography Ecstasy and Me, Lamarr described Mandl as an extremely controlling man who sometimes tried to keep her shut up in their mansion. The Austrian bought as many copies of Ecstasy as he could possibly find, objecting to her in the film, and "the expression on her face". (Lamarr later claimed the looks of passion were the result of the director poking her in the bottom with a safety pin.)
Mandl prevented her from pursuing her acting career, and instead took her to meetings with technicians and business partners. In these meetings, the mathematically talented Lamarr learned about military technology. Otherwise she had to stay at the castle Schloss Schwarzenau. She later related that, even though Mandl was part-Jewish, he was consorting with Nazi industrialists, which infuriated her. In Ecstasy and Me, Lamarr wrote that dictators Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler both attended Mandl’s grand parties. She related that in 1937 she disguised herself as one of her maids and fled to Paris, where she obtained a divorce, and then moved on to London. According to another version of the episode, she persuaded Mandl to allow her to attend a party wearing all her expensive jewelry, later drugged him with the help of her maid, and made her escape out of the country with the jewelry.