Jean Renoir adapted and directed the farce by René Fauchois about a bookseller who saves a tramp from drowning and brings him into his home with his wife and mistress.
In his bookstore Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval) caresses pretty Chloe Anne Marie (Sévérine Lerczinska), saying she is like the nymphs who dance naked at night. He says his wife no longer pleases his flesh, and he is grateful that Anne Marie consents to his being her lover. She says she loves him, and they kiss. She goes into the kitchen, and he sits down at his desk. Emma Lestingois (Marcelle Hainia) comes home and tells her husband Edouard that she attended the funeral of her friend.
By the river Priape Boudu (Michel Simon) is sitting under a tree with a black dog. The dog runs off while Boudu is eating some bread. He calls his dog and goes looking for him, asking people if they have seen him. A policeman threatens to arrest him if he does not move on. A wealthy, young woman is also looking for her dog, and the policeman enlists other police to help her look. A man in a car gives her a ride. Boudu sits on a bench, and a woman has her little girl give him five francs to buy bread. Boudu opens the car door for the man and gives him the five francs.
In the bookstore a man asks Emma about a book. She goes to look for it, and Edouard recommends Voltaire. He gives the man two books because he is young and asks him not to tell his wife.
Boudu walks down the street crowded with cars.
Edouard finds Anne Marie using a telescope and takes it from her. She dusts the piano and plays it while Edouard looks at women walking by. She says she is jealous. Anne Marie sings about spring. Edouard sees Boudu walking and says he is a perfect tramp. He sees him start to jump in the river, and Edouard runs out of the house and to the river. He takes off his coat and vest and jumps in the river. While many people and Anne Marie watch, he swims to the tramp in the middle of the river and rescues him. Someone on a passing boat throws out a life preserver, and they get into a small boat. Edouard and others lift Boudu on to the dock and lay him down. Edouard gives him artificial respiration, and men carry Boudu across the street and into their house. Edouard has them put him on a bench and continues with artificial respiration. Emma says Edouard is soaked. He tells her to pull Boudu’s tongue out. Anne Marie gets some clothes from a closet. Edouard says he is breathing, and another man slaps him, saying he is a rescuer. Boudu sits up and asks if he is dead. He says he wants to try again, but they stop him from leaving. He says he jumped in to save himself from life. The rescuer wants Edouard to get a medal. When he goes out, people cheer.
Edouard tells Boudu he will not abandon him. Edouard helps him take off his clothes. Emma offers him food, and Boudu asks for sardines. The pants are too large, and Boudu wants his own suspenders. Anne Marie brings a nightshirt. Boudu does not want a tie. Edouard lets Boudu wear his slippers and gives him a coat. The suit is too big, and Edouard says he will buy him one that fits. Anne Marie puts slippers on Edouard’s feet and sticks out her tongue at Boudu, who eats bread and butter. He spits out white wine and says he wants water. Boudu asks what he sells, and Edouard says books. Boudu says he can read large letters. Boudu says he does not know where he will sleep. Edouard says he can sleep on the sofa. Boudu meets Edouard’s wife Emma. Boudu says he is a bother. He finds lottery tickets in his pocket, and Edouard gives him one of them.
That night all four are awake in their beds. Boudu gets up and lays down on the floor. Edouard puts on a robe and sees Boudu in the hall. He turns on the light and talks to Boudu, who says a bed is too soft for him. Edouard says he likes a bed. Edouard goes back to his room, and Anne Marie turns out her light.
In the morning Anne Marie gets matches from a neighbor and lights the stove. At the table Emma asks Edouard why he did not attend the funeral of his friend. Boudu knocks over a glass of wine, and Emma puts salt on the spill. Boudu puts salt in her wine and pours more wine on the table. Edouard offers him a cigar, and Boudu takes a bunch. He picks up the plates and then lets them fall off the tray. Edouard tells Anne Marie to deliver books to the judge. Emma is frustrated and lays on her bed.
Boudu says his watch is broken, and Anne Marie says he winds it too much. Boudu says Edouard should have taken it off before he jumped in the water. Anne Marie believes Edouard is generous and Boudu is an ungrateful lout. Edouard tells Boudu he must change his ways. Edouard sits and reads while Boudu is restless and puts his legs around Anne Marie. They talk in the kitchen. Edouard straightens up a messy table. Boudu asks Anne Marie why Edouard saved him, and he turns on the water. She asks if he ate well and slept and has good clothes. He says if he had not been saved, he would be in heaven; but she says he would not go to heaven. Boudu asks her for a kiss and lays on the table. He says his dog kissed him. She says she does not like men with beards. He asks if he cuts his beard, if she will kiss him. She says yes, and he cuts off part of his beard. She says he needs a barber. He tries to grope her, and she yells and is rescued by Edouard. Boudu tells him about her promise, and Edouard gives him money for a barber. Boudu starts to leave, but Edouard says he needs to shine his shoes.
Anne Marie asks Edouard why he did not visit her last night, and he says the rascal cannot keep a secret. He says she does not want his wife to find out. They both miss each other at night. In the kitchen Boudu uses his hand to put color on his shoes. He opens cupboards and pulls things out onto the floor. He washes his hands. Emma puts on makeup, comes out, and asks Anne Marie to deliver the books. Anne Marie leaves. Boudu leaves the water running and goes in Emma’s bedroom, where he pours tonic on himself and uses the bread-spread to wipe off his shoes. He goes downstairs, and Anne Marie asks if his shoes are polished. He leaves.
Emma finds the water running and turns it off. She tells Edouard water is on the floor. She shows the mess he made in her room. Edouard is upset too. He is not sure what to do with Boudu and says he will leave tomorrow. He says Boudu spat on his book by Balzac. He goes downstairs and sees Anne Marie getting ready to go out. She says she loves Edouard, not Boudu.
Boudu walks on the street without his beard and comes back to the bookstore. Edouard says his wife has something to tell him. Boudu goes upstairs to Emma and asks if he smells good. He tries to romance her. She says they welcomed him into their home, and he created pandemonium. He promises not to do it again. He asks about the beauty mark on her chest. He grabs her, and she struggles for a while and then subsides. Outside a band is playing. Boudu and happy Emma rise. The rescuer comes in and tells Edouard he is being given a medal. The others arrive and learn of the medal.
Boudu smokes in front of the bookstore. A man asks him about M. Lestingois, and Boudu puts him off. Anne Marie comes in, and he asks if she saw the customer. She brings in a bag of groceries and hangs them in the window. Boudu grabs her. She giggles and goes in the next room. Boudu offers her his lottery ticket, and she asks if he is teasing her. He goes outside and hears news about the lottery. Edouard comes home. Boudu asks a man about his number and learns he won 100,000 francs. Boudu comes back with the newspaper. Emma puts her arms around him, but he backs away. She embraces him and asks what is wrong. They fall into a bedroom, where Edouard and Anne Marie are embracing while sitting on the bed. Emma says it is clear. Boudu tells Anne Marie he can marry her now. He tells Edouard he won the lottery prize.
On a boat Edouard reads from a paper at the wedding of Boudu and Anne Marie. On shore an orchestra plays the “Blue Danube Waltz.” The rescuer is rowing the boat. Boudu sees a flower in the water and reaches out for it, causing the boat to capsize. Boudu floats, and two men help Anne Marie get out of the water. Edouard and Emma get out of the river too. Boudu is swimming downstream. He goes ashore alone. He sees a scarecrow and takes it with him. In the woods he changes his fine clothes for those of the scarecrow. He walks by the river, and a woman gives him something to eat. He shares it with a goat, sits down, and sings. He lays in the grass and throws his hat in the river.
Anne Marie, Edouard, and Emma wonder where Boudu is. Edouard says the currents took him again. People sing a love song.
This comedy contrasts the primal urges of the tramp with middle-class civilization that covers over the basic urges. The tramp does not seem to have learned how to do anything useful. So the only way he survives is by asking others for what he needs.