Written, directed, and with music by Charles Chaplin, a woman is turned out of her house and is going to elope with a young artist; but that night his father dies, and she goes to Paris alone. There she is dated by a wealthy man, and the young artist paints her portrait.
In a small French village Marie St. Clair (Edna Purviance) lights the lamp in her bedrooom and starts packing when her step-father (Clarence Geldart) comes upstairs and locks her door. She looks out the window and tells Jean Millet (Carl Miller), who helps her leave by the window. The step-father unlocks the door.
Later the couple returns after planning to go to Paris to get married. Jean helps Marie climb up to the window, and she says it is locked. He knocks on the front door, and her step-father with a lamp tells her that maybe Jean will provide her a place for the night. Then he closes the door. Jean pats her on the shoulder and says his mother will put her up for the night.
At his house he gets the fire going, and she tells him not to wake his mother. Jean’s father (Charles French) comes downstairs and asks to see Jean alone. He tells Jean to get her out of the house. Jean calls to his mother and says she has been locked out. Marie says she had better go. Jean’s mother (Lydia Knott) comes down, and Jean leaves with Marie.
Jean tells Marie they can catch a train to Paris at 12:15. He gives her money to buy the tickets, and he goes home to pack his bag.
When Jean comes home, his mother asks his father if they can make the best of it because they are determined to marry; but he says he does not want to see him anymore. He hands her some money, and she asks him to say goodbye to their son. Jean comes down with his suitcase, and his mother embraces him. She offers hm the money, but he does not take it. He finds his father’s pipe on the floor and discovers he has passed out. His mother tells him to get a doctor, and Jean calls on the phone.
At 12:10 Marie is anxious and calls Jean on the phone. He tells her they must postpone their trip. He leaves the phone, and she hangs up. She decides to get on the train.
A year later in Paris people are dancing in a restaurant. Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou) comes in with Marie, who is in a stylish dress. A woman says he is the richest bachelor in Paris, and Pierre tells Marie that she is one of the richest old maids in Paris. Pierre goes into the kitchen and talks to the chef, who gets a little bird. Pierre goes back to the table, and the waiter cooks truffles in champagne. He serves them and pours champagne.
The next morning in Marie’s apartment two maids are cleaning. Fifi (Betty Morrissey) arrives with a bouquet and finds Marie in bed. She throws the flowers on her and embraces her. She opens the window and tells Marie to get up. Marie asks why she is up so early, and Fifi says she has not been to bed yet.
In his business office Pierre is in bed reading the stock market tape. He looks at a magazine and notices his engagement is announced. His valet asks if that will complicate matters for the other lady. Pierre says to call her up. He gets Marie on the phone, and Pierre asks if he will see her for dinner. She says yes. Pierre tells the valet she does not know.
Fifi sees the magazine announcement and asks Marie if she knows about it. Paulette (Malvina Polo) comes in looks at the magazine too. Paulette assures Marie that everything will come out all right and leaves.
Pierre opens a bottle of wine and kisses Marie. She says she cannot go out tonight because she is too depressed. He notices the magazine article and asks if she is worried about that. He says it makes no difference to them. She cries, and he says goodnight and leaves.
That evening in the Latin quarter people are dancing wildly. Marie gets a call from a woman who invites her to the studio of her friend. Marie puts on a fur coat. At the party a man carries in a woman and begins unwinding her dress, winding it around himself. Women are shocked, and the undressed woman runs out. Marie arrives and knocks on a door. In a flat she finds Jean and comes in. They smile, and his mother comes into the room. Jean tells Marie the place she wants is next door. His mother brings them coffee. Marie says he has become an artist.
At the party a drunk man leaves with a woman, making another woman angry.
Jean brings Marie a napkin with a hole in it. She says it is understood he will paint her portrait, and he says he will call her. Marie says goodbye and goes out with Jean. He walks her to the cab which leaves.
The next morning Marie is looking at dresses. Jean comes in wearing a black armband. Marie shakes his hand, and she shows him the gown for the portrait. She shows him other dresses too, and he sees a white collar the maid dropped. She asks who he is mourning, and he says his father died the night she left. Pierre arrives, and a maid has Marie come out of the bedroom. Pierre offers her chocolates and tells the maid to ask the gentleman if he wants some. The maid goes out, and Marie tells Pierre he is clever. He tells her to be careful and goes. Jean comes in and says they will choose the silver dress. He leaves.
Jean is painting the portrait as Marie poses. She asks if he is tired, and they both yawn. He says she promised not to look at the picture until it is finished.
Marie comes in and looks at the portrait of her in an old dress. She asks him why he brought up the past. He says he knew her better then. She starts to go, but at the door he says he still loves her. They can marry and start a new life. They go out. His mother is at home mourning.
Marie is trying to decide between marriage and luxury while she talks with Pierre.
He tries to console her and says she does not know what she wants. She says she wants a home, a man’s respect, and babies. He shows her a family on the street, and she complains he does not take her seriously. He asks what is wrong. She says she is unhappy. She hits him playfully and throws her pearl necklace out the window. A bum finds it, and she tells Pierre to stop him. He watches from the window as Marie runs after him. Marie takes the necklace and hands the bum some money. Pierre is laughing when Marie comes back with tape on her shoe. He asks why she is so upset. She says they must part. He asks if it is the young artist. She says he loves her and is going to marry her. Pierre asks if she loves him, and she says yes.Pierre calls her a liar and smiles. He says he will see her for dinner tomorrow, and she says he will never see her again. He asks her to phone him sometime and leaves.
Jean is telling his mother that he will not marry her; so she can stop nagging him. She says she is thinking of his future. He asks her not to be upset and embraces her. He promises he will not marry her. She says he proposed, and he says it was in a moment of weakness. Marie comes in and says it was a moment of weakness. He asks her not to joke. She laughs and leaves.
That night Pierre is out with Marie’s friend Paulette, and another friend sees them and disapproves. Pierre sends Paulette home in a cab and says he will walk home.
Marie is reading a book in bed. The maid looks out the window and says Jean is still outside.
Pierre comes home, and his servant gets Marie on the phone. He asks to see her again. She says he does not love her anymore, but she suggests dinner tomorrow.
Jean goes home feeling wretched and lays down.
In the morning a woman is massaging Marie, and her friend comes in and says she saw Pierre with Paulette. Paulette comes in and tells her friend not to mention about last night. They drink, and Paulette says she is worried about Marie. The friend tells Marie that Paulette is dining with him again tonight. Marie gets dressed and calls Pierre, asking what time they are dining. He says 7:30, and she asks if he has another engagment. Paulette overheard and says goodbye.
Jean is in despair and puts bullets in a gun. His mother comes in with something she bought. Jean goes out, and his mother tells him he looks tired and not to stay out late.
Pierre helps Marie with her coat, and she puts a flower in his buttonhole. They kiss as they are walking out. Jean sees them get in a car. He gets a cab and follows them.
At the nightclub Pierre and Marie arrive and sit at a table. Jean comes in and hands a note to the headwaiter, who gives it to Marie. She reads that he must see her for the last time. Pierre asks to see it, and she lets him read it. Pierre invites him to the table and shakes his hand. Jean sits between them. Jean gets the note back from Pierre and starts fighting him. A bouncer restrains him and escorts him out. In the lobby Jean takes out his gun and shoots himself. People gather around him. Marie is upset, and a man says he is dead. Pierre is consoling Marie, who collapses.
Jean’s mother is cooking soup. A man comes to Jean’s mother and says her son had a serious accident, and they fear the worst. Two policeman carry in the body, and the man asks her questions about her son. Jean’s mother grieves alone and reads the note. She looks at the portrait of Marie, gets a gun, and goes out.
A maid escorts Jean’s mother in and says Marie left for her studio. Jean’s mother leaves.
Marie is crying over the body of Jean. His mother comes in and sees her. She puts the gun on the desk.
Time has passed and healed the wounds. Jean’s mother and Marie are taking care of four children. A priest comes in and says he noticed a new addition to their family. He asks Marie when she is going to marry and have her own children. Jean’s mother sets the table.
Marie walks on a road with a child. Pierre is in his car looking for Marie’s address. Marie and the child get a ride on the back of a horse-drawn cart. Pierre’s car drives by going in the opposite direction, and he does not see her.
This love triangle contrasts the love of a passionate young artist to that of a wealthy playboy who is detached. She chooses the young man; but his passionate jealousy destroys himself. Finally the woman realizes that what she wants to do is raise children.