Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, a woman who has to be married to inherit millions is engaged to a married man and weds a coal miner about to be hanged; but he is not hanged, and she tries to live with him so that she will get the money.
Hagon Derk (Charles Bickford) stands up in court, and the judge sentences him to be hanged for the crime of murder. His little sister Katie Derk (Muriel McCormac) cries and runs to hug him. Derk asks the judge if he can do something to help her, but the judge says she will probably be committed to a public institution. Derk says he will find a way to help her. He tries to get her to smile and laugh as they are separated.
Cynthia Crothers (Kay Johnson) tells three men managing her estate that she will not do it. They tell her that her grandfather wanted her to marry and settle down. She says she will break the will, but they say she cannot break it. She has only one month to get married, or she will not receive his millions. They explain to her that she has to be living with a husband on her 23rd birthday to inherit his fortune. She says she is engaged to be married, and they are glad; but she says that the man is married. She says she will not marry a man she does not love.
At the Ladies Field Day women participate in the sports of badminton, water polo, archery, and the aero wheel. Cynthia tells Roger Towne (Conrad Nagel) that she is the unluckiest girl in the world because he is married. He says that only he and she matter. Marco (Joel McCrea) asks Marcia Towne (Julia Faye) how she is feeling today. She says her husband enjoys his heart attacks. Roger tells Cynthia that he will not let her money come between them. Marcia asks Roger and Cynthia when they want to get married. They say tomorrow and ask Marcia to set the date. She wants time to shop around for another man. Cynthia sends Roger off to play so that she can talk with Marcia. He gets on a horse and rides off. Cynthia asks Marcia how she can let him go. Marcia says Roger does not have any money, and she wants alimony from Cynthia who says he is worth it. Marcia asks for $200,000 with $50,000 down. Cynthia says no man is worth that. They watch Roger playing polo and admire him. Cynthia offers her $100,000 with $25,000 down. They hear the aero hoop race announced. Cynthia suggests they bet on this race, and whoever wins sets the amount she proposed.
In prison on death row an officer brings a radio and tunes in music. They hear a description of the aero hoop race.
Women in bathing suits, capes, and gloves come out for the race. They get in their wheels, and Roger takes Cynthia’s cloak. They start the race. The women hold on with hands and feet as they roll head over heels. Cynthia wins the race, and they both roll into the pool. Marcia says she gets $100,000, and Cynthia says she gets Roger who kisses her and helps her.
A newspaper reports that a murderer is offering his body to medical science for $10,000. In prison Derk embraces Katie through the bars and kisses her goodbye. She cries, and he says he will get money to keep her out of the orphanage. Cynthia asks him if he would like to have money to give her a home and an education. Derk tells Katie to go, and an officer escorts her. Derk asks who Cynthia is, and she says she read the article in the paper. She says she has $10,000, but she does not want his body. She wants him to marry her. He asks if she is in trouble. He asks why he is picking on her. She says she is paying for it and asks his answer. She offers to bring a certified check, and he tells her to bring cash. She will come tomorrow night, and she leaves.
Men with hammers are building the scaffold while a man in a cell plays guitar and sings. A minister performs the wedding with Derk behind the bars and Cynthia outside them. She is upset by the sound of the hammering, and they go on with the ceremony. She provides the ring that Derk places on her finger. The man sings, “How am I to know if it’s really love that found its way here?” The minister asks the two guards to sign as witnesses. Derk asks her for the flowers she was wearing. He says they are for his funeral, and she cries and leaves.
Cynthia in bed looks at a clock and hears it toll four. She cries.
Two men are smoking in a nightclub, and one man looks at the clock which shows 4:43 and says he is glad it is Derk and not him. The other man tests what he is made of by describing the hanging. He says it should be you. He says he has a gun under the table. He tells the man to confess that he did it. The man stands up with a knife and is shot. He falls on the floor and says he did it. A policeman comes and tells people to be quiet. The man tells the cop that he did the murder and says his finger left the print they could not explain. People realize they are about to hang an innocent man. The policeman goes to call.
Cynthia comes down the stairs in her mansion and tells the butler that she does not want to see the newspaper and to tell anyone who calls that she is out. She opens a box and reads the card from Roger who expects to see her tonight. She sees the corsage. The butler answers the door, and Derk pushes his way in and locks out the butler. Derk finds Cynthia who is shocked to see him alive. They both are glad they didn’t hang him. He says if he is free, she is not. He says that is a tough break for her, and she sits down. He apologizes and asks what they are going to do. She says it is mad and horrible. He asks if she would like to try it out. She asks if he thinks he could hold her to the marriage. She says she paid for his name and will now pay to get rid of it. She says he had no right to come there. He gets angry and says the marriage is real. He takes her hand, and she tells him to let go. She tells the butler to show him out. He says he came there to do the right thing and asks to be shown to his room. A maid tells her that Roger and others are at the door. Cynthia sends her to the door to wait. She begs Derk to leave. She sends Derk upstairs and tells him to hurry. Roger and the friends come in, and he kisses her hand and embraces her. They have come to drink and have a good time. Cynthia and Roger open the bar. She says she wants to talk to him. Another man starts serving drinks.
Cynthia goes outside on a porch. Inside Derk hears the people and looks at them from the stairs. Roger comes out and notices she is not wearing the flowers he sent her. He asks what is the matter, and she says she married another man for his sake. She says she had to marry, or she would lose the money. She says she read about a man who was to hang. He says she was mad, and he asks where he is. She says lawyers can fix anything, but he says she is playing with dynamite.
Derk watches the people drinking and dancing wildly and scoffs. Marcia and Marco arrive, and Cynthia and Roger welcome them. Marcia tells Cynthia that she came for her first payment, and they go upstairs. Derk hears them as Cynthia writes a check for $25,000 and gives it to Marcia. Derk goes into Cynthia’s lavish rooms and looks around. He notices the luxurious bathroom and tastes the bath salts. He comes out and sees Cynthia kissing Roger who calls him the gasman. Derk asks why he is kissing her. Roger asks what business it is of his, and Derk says he has a good reason. Roger says she is his fiancée, but Derk says she is his wife. Roger says he will take care of this and tells him to get out because he was well paid for his service. Derk says Roger has been well paid too, and he tells Marcia to show him the $25,000 check. He takes it and shows it to Roger who asks Marcia why Cynthia gave it to her. Cynthia persuades Roger to step into another room. Roger asks Cynthia if she thinks that is what his love is worth. He says if she gives it back to Marcia, he will be through with her. Cynthia asks what they are to do. Roger says they will have to wait until he can pay for this. He leaves, and Marcia demands the check back; but Cynthia rips it up. Marcia threatens to expose the scandal. Derk comes over and asks who will believe that. Marcia learns that he is Cynthia’s husband. Marcia insists on getting the money and goes to tell others. Cynthia stops her and admits she is married. People congratulate her, and Marcia says she has not got a divorce. They find out that she married Derk. Marcia says she must be ashamed of him or he would not be missing. Derk announces that he is there and comes down the stairs. A drunk man takes part of a dress and uses it as a bridal veil for Cynthia. He and other drunk men try to take the bride’s garter, but Derk stops them and tells them all to get out of there. Cynthia cries and says she is sorry. She asks them all to go, and they leave. Derk pushes Marcia and another man. Two women are impressed and giggle, but he tells them to beat it. Marcia throws her shoes at Cynthia. After they have gone, Derk tells Cynthia that she can rest easy now. She says they will never come back. She says he has ruined her life by insulting her friends and making her a laughing stock. She tells the butler that if Derk wants to stay, he is to be in a servant’s room.
Cynthia goes to her room, and her maid helps unfasten her dress.
The butler offers Derk a highball, but he punches the tray and sends it flying. He knocks on her bedroom door and says he has something to give her. She refuses to unlock it, and he breaks through the door. She tells him to get out and tries to call the police. He stops her and says this is their wedding night. He holds her and kisses her as she struggles. He picks her up and throws her on the bed. She says she is not his wife, and he agrees with her. He says she is not good enough to be his wife. He throws the money at her and stalks out. While crying she tells him to get out of her house.
At the coal mine workers go to work.
In his home Katie says Derk has not said one word about his wife in two weeks. He tells her to go to school and kisses her. She leaves, and he picks up his lunch pail.
Cynthia arrives in her modern motorcar and gives a little boy one dollar to tell her where Derk lives. He does so, and she sees Derk come out of his house. He asks what she is doing there. She came early to catch him going to work. She asks if he would mind coming back and living with her for a week. He says he did not like her hospitality, and she says he was not a good guest either. She shows him a letter that explains she must be living with a husband on August 10 to get her inheritance. She says if he refuses, she will lose everything. He says he won’t do it. She says it means millions to her, and she asks if he will let her stay in his home. He says she will do anything and does not want her to make him a laughing stock. She says he is afraid of her, and he agrees she can stay for one week as his wife. He implies there will be no sex, but she will cook and scrub the floors. He tells her to put her car in the toolshed and leave it there. Three women realize she must be Derk’s wife. She backs the car in, and she has a parrot in a basket. He locks the toolshed and says he has to get to work. He gives her money to buy food and tells her she is to cook dinner. He says she has to do what he says, or she cannot stay. She says he wins, and they shake hands. She says she does not have any clothes, but she will send for some.
Cynthia is trying to prepare a dinner in the kitchen and reads a cook book. She finds the baking powder which gets on her and uses a large serving spoon instead of a teaspoon. She beats the butter, eggs, and flour together. She hears something boiling over and uses a cloth to pick up the coffee pot. She looks in the oven and finds a lump of coal. She notices the roast has not been cooking. Katie comes in, watches her, and laughs. Cynthia tries to grease the cake-pan. Katie says the oven will not work with the damper that way, and she fixes it. She sees a spilled egg on the floor, and Cynthia says she is trying to be Derk’s cook. Katie asks if she thought she could cook corned beef in the oven. Katie says she will cook the dinner and will spend the night with a neighbor. She tells Cynthia to clean herself up. Katie says she can make biscuits and ham and eggs.
At the dinner table Derk is enjoying the food and says Cynthia is a good cook. She admits that his sister cooked the meal because she felt sorry for her. She realizes she is not much good for anything. He says she is improving because that is the first honest thing he heard her say. She says that is the first human thing he said. He says she would be better if she did not travel with her friends. He tells her how coal makes things better for her. He tells her how he began digging coal when he was fourteen. He says eating and living and loving are not modern. She says she likes to hear him talk. He says he does not have any poison liquor to make it lively for her, but he turns on his radio. They hear a report of how Roger did well in a polo match. He changes the channel, and she asks if he is jealous. He gets jazz and says that is her music. She asks if he dances and shows him how. They joke about him stepping on her. He says he likes it. He reminds her of the song they heard during the wedding and of the vows they made. He kisses her, and they stop dancing. There hear a knock, and two miners come in and tell him about an emergency. He says he knows the fifth level. Cynthia wants to help, but he tells her no. He leaves with them. She sings along with the song and calls herself a fool.
At four o’clock Derk comes home and sees Cynthia sleeping on the couch. He puts a blanket over her, and the parrot says, “Pretty girl.” He turns out the light and goes upstairs.
At the company store women shop. Cynthia is with Katie and asks how they are. Cynthia asks for skin cream for her face, and the others laugh. She buys candy for the little boy Bobby. His mother comes over and says he can’t take that from the lady. Bobby runs out, and the women see that he is hit by a car. A man carries the boy back in and lays him down on a blanket. A doctor attends to him, and the mother accuses Cynthia of killing her baby. He says it is a serious case. A man says he did not mean to hit the kid. The doctor says it is beyond him. He says he needs a brain surgeon, and the only one he knows is Dr. Rowlands in the city. Cynthia says she will get him, and he gives her the address. He doubts that anyone could drive there and back in four hours.
Cynthia finds the toolshed locked and breaks a board to get in. She drives the car through the door.
The boy is sobbing, and the doctor asks how long she has been gone. They say it has been three hours. The doctor checks his heart and tells the mother to be calm. Katie hears the car and says she is coming. Cynthia drives through a fence and parks in front of the store. Dr. Rowlands gets out and goes in. Cynthia tells Katie that she has to get her brother’s dinner.
Derk comes home and sees that the door of the toolshed is demolished. He goes in the house and calls for Cynthia. He hears the car and goes out. He asks where she has been, and they come into the house. He asks why she took the car out and suspects that she went to see another guy. She says she had to. He says his rich wife cashed a check for $2,000 and asks what it was for. She gets angry and goes upstairs. Three women come in with flowers for his wife and apologize for the way they treated her. They say they were wrong about her. They tell him how she went to get a doctor from the city to save the life of the boy, and she used the money to pay the doctor. They tell him to give her the flowers and that the boy is going to be all right. He says he will tell her. A young woman says he does not deserve her. Cynthia calls Roger who says he had been searching for her. She tells him where she is, says she is all right, and asks him to come get her as soon as possible. Derk hears this, and she hears him closing a door. Roger tells her he will come right away.
At night Roger picks up Cynthia, and he tells her he sold polo ponies and settled with Marcia. She says she is happy. She wants to go, but he says he has to talk to Derk first. She says he is in the mine, and she does not want to see him. He drives the car.
At the mine Cynthia and Roger say they are looking for Derk. A man says he is alone on the fifth level looking for gas. They go down, and men believe that a woman in the mine is bad luck.
In the mine Derk is examining the cave for some sign of gas. He sees Roger and Cynthia coming and keeps working. They come up to him, and Roger says he is taking his wife away. He asks him what he wants to do. Derk drops his tool, and she tells them not to act like children. Derk says if she did not love Roger, he would kill him. Roger says there is no more to say and says he is sorry. They hear a rumble, and Derk says they are headed for hell. Roger and Cynthia start to run and see the mine caving in ahead of them and stop. The caving in continues, and Derk pulls her back. Beams are cracking and breaking, and they retreat. The mine becomes dark.
Outside the mine workers shout and discuss what they should do to rescue them.
Roger keeps saying there must be a way out, but Derk tells him it would take him a year to dig his way out. Derk helps her to a safe place, and Roger joins them. Derk says it will take about three days for them to break through to them. Roger says he wanted to go on the wagon, and she says she can go on a diet. Derk tells them not to light a cigarette. Derk tests the air and says they have enough for about fifteen minutes. She asks about the help, and he says it will be too late. Roger asks what they can do, and Derk says they can pray. He uses the lamp and shows them the effect of the gas. Cynthia says she is not afraid. Roger says he will spend the time close to the woman he loves. Derk says he will get the woman he loves out. He finds some dynamite, and she asks him if he said he loved her. He says he does but that he is not going to get out of there. Derk starts pounding a stake into a wall. Roger asks what he is doing. Derk says there are no fuse caps for the dynamite. He tells Roger to get the sledge. Derk says he will fill the hole with dynamite, and then one of them will explode it with the sledge. They realize that the man using the sledge will die. Roger asks which one is going to do it.
Outside the mine the boss plans to go to the area where Derk could get to by blasting through.
The canary in the mine is struggling to breathe. Derk pushes a stick of dynamite into the hole he made and pushes it deeper with a pipe. He tells Roger to get where he is safe. Roger says he will toss for it. Derk calls heads, and Roger says he is elected. Derk tries to stop him and says he will not let him do it. He just wanted to see if he had the guts. They argue about who wants to live with her thinking about the other one who died for her. Derk says they are running out of air. Roger tells Cynthia to decide, and she says she can’t. Derk asks her too. Roger takes her aside, and Derk says the bird died. She hugs Roger, and he goes and tells Derk that she loves him. Derk says he knew that and tells him to get out of the way. Roger says she wants to say goodbye to Derk, and he goes over to her. Roger picks up the sledge and swings it, causing an explosion. Derk asks her what she told him, and she says that she told him that she loves Derk.
Outside they heard the blast, and they realize they are alive. The boss says they can reach them in two days.
Derk carries Cynthia through the hole made and says he was wrong about Roger who was a great guy. She is crying, and he carries her out.
This drama depicts the wealthy people of this era who drink illegal alcohol and waste their time at parties. They are contrasted to a hard-working miner who sees their lives as shallow and selfish. By her contact with the miner the wealthy woman realizes how useless she is without her money.