Written by Preston Sturges, a poor man is educated by his wife and becomes a railroad tycoon and falls in love with another woman.
In a large church a minister preaches at the funeral service for Thomas Garner. During the eulogy Henry (Ralph Morgan) gets up and walks out.
At the Chicago & Southwestern Railway Company an employee asks Henry about the funeral, and he says he had to leave. When the man indicates he is glad that Garner died, Henry reprimands him. Henry goes into his office and looks at a photo of Garner and his son.
Henry is drying dishes as his wife (Sarah Padden) washes them. She notes that he does not break them now as he did before. She says they could have had servants, and he admits he is not smart. She says she got what she wanted and is happy. Henry goes into the living-room and sits down. His wife brings him coffee, sees the photo of Garner, and says it is good he killed himself. He tells her not to talk like that. She remembers how many people died during the strike, and how he kicked out his first wife. Henry says he was too big to be judged by ordinary standards. Henry says he knew him most of his life. When they were boys, Tom was unafraid. When they were children, they did not have radio, films, and automobiles.
At a swimming hole little Tom (Billy O’Brien) pushes the boy Henry (Cullen Johnson) in the water so that he will learn how to swim. Henry says he tried to drown him. Tom wants to try it again, and they fight. Henry sits on Tom and hits him. They stand up, and Tom holds Henry’s arms. Tom calls Henry a good scrapper. Another taller boy tries to pick a fight with Henry, but Tom stops him and knocks him into the water. Henry realizes that Tom could have beat him up if he had wanted to, though Tom says he could not do anything against Henry. Tom teaches Henry to swim, and Tom jumps into the water from a high branch. Tom dives into the water and but does not come up for a long time. Others dive in to try to help him. Underwater Tom has his hand stuck in rocks. Finally he comes up and swims to the bank. They see that his hand is badly injured.
Henry says that Tom did not go to school because his father said he did not need it to milk a cow. Henry tears part of his shirt off to bandage Tom’s hand and uses an herb on it. Henry says that Tom was a brave kid and a brave man.
Many years later Henry is secretary to the railway president Tom Garner (Spencer Tracy). While on the phone Henry conveys Garner’s instructions on buying stock of a company he wants to control. Henry says the directors are waiting.
In the board room men sit around a table, and at the head of the table Edward complains that the railway Garner wants to buy is not worth it. The other men agree with him. Garner comes in smoking a cigar and tells them they have an opportunity. He wants to buy the Santa Clara railroad and says he did not even need to call them in. He tells them why he wants to buy the railroad and bullies them into going along with him. He asks each man in turn, and they agree with him. They all vote in favor, and Garner thanks them. On the way out he tells them they bought the Santa Clara ten minutes ago.
In his office Garner tells Henry they were delighted. Garner tells Henry to call Emerson and Porter and buy $10,000 in shares and $1,000 for himself. Henry narrates that is how he got the money for his house.
Henry says that Garner did not learn to read and write until he was twenty. He was a track walker for a railway company. Sally (Colleen Moore) is a teacher, and Tom speaks to her. He says he got a letter and says he can’t read the writing. She says it is stylish. She has the child Edie read the letter. Sally reads the letter from Henry and realizes that Tom cannot read. He admits he can’t read, write, or do arithmetic. She offers to teach him, and he would like to learn to impress Henry.
Garner is working on arithmetic in a classroom with Sally who tells him to work out his own answer. She does not give him a ten because it is not neat. She has him make a line of o’s. She tells him to relax, and she guides his hand.
Garner and Sally take a walk on a Sunday and climb a mountain. He has trouble speaking to her and continues to climb the mountain. He gets nervous about talking and goes up higher. At the top of the mountain Sally is weary and sits down. They look at the view. Garner suddenly asks, “Will you marry me?” and she says yes.
Henry narrates that the Santa Clara had a president with a daughter. Henry tells Garner that the president Borden wants to see him. Garner says he kept him out of a club once and says he will make him wait. Borden (Henry Kolker) comes into the office with his daughter Eve Borden (Helen Vinson), and she shakes hands with Garner. Borden invites them to lunch, and Eve persuades Garner to join them. He makes sure they know that he owns the Santa Clara now. He tells Henry he will be back at three.
Henry notes when Garner comes back at five and gives him two cigars. Garner says Borden can run the Santa Clara, and Henry does not argue. Garner says Eve married a scoundrel when she was too young to know better. He says she is pretty and has a musical voice. Henry feels that trouble is coming.
Tom Garner Jr. (Phillip Trent) comes into the office, and Henry sends him in to his father’s office. Tom says he was expelled from college because he was drinking. Garner gives him a job as a junior bookkeeper for $16 a week. He sends him home to his mother and warns him not to fight him because he is heavier.
Tom tells his mother Sally that his father did not give him a chance to explain. Garner comes in smoking a cigar and sits down with a newspaper. He asks Sally why she is looking at him angrily. She says he does not want anyone to have fun when they are young because he did not have fun then. She says she won’t have it, but Garner says she spoiled Tom. Garner calls him irresponsible and says he is ashamed of him. Sally says he should be ashamed of himself, and Garner goes out saying he will stay at the club for a few days. Tom thanks her, and Sally complains about what she has to put up with. Tom goes to her and comforts her.
Young Garner asks young Sally if she is happy. She says she is worried about the future and asks him if he wants to be a track walker all his life. He says they have a house, and he is happy. She asks if he has ambition, and he says worry goes with it. She says they could have better things. She says he could do anything he wanted. She urges him to try to be somebody. She says he needs more education and suggests engineering in Chicago. She says she can walk track while he goes to college. She asks him to go along and make her happy. She says Robinson thinks it is a good idea.
Garner attends an engineering class, and two students invite him to go out and play pool. Garner says he has to study.
Garner with books comes into a bar and asks for a beer. He makes a sandwich and eats standing up.
Sally is walking on the track at night during snow.
Henry narrates that the Borden girl was different.
Garner is dining with Eve and tells her he loves her more than any man loved a woman. She is glad, and he says she shouldn’t be. She asks if he talked to his wife, but he says he could not divorce Sally. She stands up and tells him to call her when he has made up his mind.
Henry tells Garner that Sally is there, and she comes in to his office. She wants him to take her to Europe because they need it. She says something is the matter with them. She admits that she is disagreeable and bad tempered. She says she will change and asks him to take her away where they can be alone and become friends again. She says the miles of railroad he has built have taken him farther away from her. He says a terrible thing has happened. He admits he is in love even though he tried not to. He asks what they should do. He says maybe a trip would be good, and she says he will be thinking of her all the time. He suggests they go to Paris. She asks why he should not be in love and have fun. She says she never let him have any fun because she wanted power and money. She tells him to take the other woman away and spend his millions on her. Sally hopes she will make him happier than she did. Garner goes to her, but she goes out.
Outside Sally gives her purse to a poor woman selling flowers. She tells her chauffeur to leave and looks up at the big building. She sees a street car coming, and she is killed.
Henry argues with his wife about what happened to Sally. He says that Garner could not help it. He says he paid Sally back with thirty years of devotion. He says for 28 years they were happy.
Young Garner comes home and tells Sally he got a promotion while she is trying to tell him that she is going to have a baby. He says he is in charge of building a bridge. Then she says they are going to have a baby. They embrace, and he says they will never stop him now. He will make a lot of money. He says it will be a boy and kisses her. He says he loves her, and together they can do anything.
Garner is pacing while Mulligan plays solitaire. Garner asks if she is all right. The doctor comes out and tells Garner that it is a boy. He goes in to the bedroom and kneels by the bed. He asks Sally if she is all right, and she says yes. They look at their son, and he prays and thanks God who has the “power and the glory forever.”
Older Garner tells his son Tom that he is going to be married next month. Tom says he should have waited longer. Garner asks him to come live with them, and he agrees. Garner says he does not have to do bookkeeping anymore. He tells his son that he can earn as much as he can spend, and Tom is happy.
The wedding of Garner and Eve is attended only by the minister, Tom as best man, and Henry.
During a railway strike Garner goes through the gate into the factory where a striker is giving an angry speech about their poor conditions. Garner pushes his way forward and climbs up on the platform and tells the man to sit down. Garner tells them they started something they can’t finish. He will not listen to threats anymore. Only he runs the railroad. They can either work or quit, and midnight is the deadline in 50 minutes. He says people are waiting for food, and this railroad will run tonight. He says 5,000 men are coming from Chicago, and 1,000 state militia are arriving to keep order. He says if they look for trouble, they will find it.
Tom is reading a newspaper, and Eve comes in and complains that her honeymoon is ridiculous. She sits down, and Tom says his father owns the railroad now even though her father is still the president. Tom says it was only a little railroad. He suggests that they could be good friends. She asks, “Why not?” and asks him to take her dancing. He agrees and takes her hand.
Garner was away from home for six weeks, and the labor conflict is violent, killing 406 men.
Henry and his wife discuss the strike, and she asks why Garner killed himself. She says his conscience bothered him about Sally, his son, and those workers. She says he was ignorant and no good. He was rotten to his wife. She asks why he committed suicide. Henry says he died on his wedding anniversary.
Garner comes in to the office and offers some apple to Henry who reminds him that this day is his wedding anniversary. Garner says he forgot, and he goes out to buy a present.
On the street Garner buys a puppet on a string and gets in a taxi to go to a jeweler.
Eve is on the phone while her baby plays on the floor. Garner comes in, but she does not see him. She asks her darling to come have tea with her and says the baby looks him. She says goodbye and sees Garner who asks who she is talking to. She says it was a girl she went to school with. She asks if he minds and sees he has a present for her. She opens the jewelry box and thanks him for that and the puppet for Buster. He asks her friend’s name and walks away slowly. He goes out.
At a board meeting Garner remembers what Eve said and stands up and then apologizes to Edward. Garner shouts, “No!” He says he is ill and asks them to forgive him. He says he wants to go home and slowly walks to Henry and asks him to take him home. Henry helps him out of the room.
Henry has brought Garner home, and he tells the butler to get the doctor right away. Garner goes up the stairs and asks to see his wife. He tells Henry it is a secret. Eve asks him what is wrong, and he asks where the boy is. She says he is in bed. He says he only wants his wife. She backs up in fear. He goes into the bedroom and asks her who he looks like. She says she won’t tell him. He repeats the question, and she screams as he approaches the child. She admits it was Tommy and collapses on the floor crying. He asks why he should not be in love and do what you want before you die. Garner walks back to Henry who says the doctor may be knocking. Tom comes in and says he heard that his father is ill. They hear a shot, and Henry rushes into the room and holds Garner who leans on the bed as Tom watches. Garner says, “Sally” and dies.
Henry’s wife stands up and touches her husband before she goes up stairs.
This drama depicted by flashbacks portrays a poor man who is helped by his wife to become educated and ambitious. Ironically his wife becomes unhappy as a result, and they both come to realize that power does not necessarily lead to glory.