Two families united in business survive the world war but are wiped out by the crash of 1929 in this epic directed by John Ford.
At New Orleans in 1825 the will of Sebastian Girard leaves his business and its partnership with Gabriel Warburton to his sons, who make a family compact. When a man insults Mrs. Warburton (Madeleine Carroll), Richard Girard (Franchot Tone) shoots him in a duel.
In 1914 at a family reunion in New Orleans Mary Warburton (Madeleine Carroll) arrives from England with others from France and Germany. Richard Girard (Franchot Tone) repeats the pledge to safeguard the family first. In Germany Fritz marries Jeanne from France. Erik von Gerhardt (Reginald Denny) begins to announce his engagement to Mary, but she stops him. Richard tells her he is going to Paris. Erik sets the date for the first of August, but Mary says she loves no one. Richard learns of the war and joins the French army. John Girard sends Manning to France to help and makes Mary a partner. Fritz fires a torpedo that sinks an English ship, killing John Girard; his submarine is sunk too. Mary takes over the English firm with Richard as co-trustee. Mary and Manning meet with Richard about making munitions, and she refuses. Richard goes back to the army and fights in the trenches. Many men are killed over several days. Richard calls on Mary while recovering from a wound and marries her. She says no one could love as much as she loves him. Richard goes back to the army but says she was right about the munitions. Erik is assigned to interrogating prisoners. The Negro Dixie (Stepin Fetchit) is shot in the hand. Richard shoots a machine gun while attacked. Soldiers pray in church as "Ave Maria" is sung. Mary gets a telegram Richard is missing, and the government takes over her factory. Richard is given Mary's letters and taken to Erik's house. By October 1918 the Germans are short of food. Bells soon toll the armistice, and Erik comes home.
In the post-war era money becomes the new god, as Richard, Mary, Henri, Jacques, and Erik celebrate the centennial of the family compact in prosperity and power. Richard says they can buy up companies to control cotton prices; he tells Mary he is buying Warburton's, hoping to become the richest in the world. She complains she never sees him anymore. In 1929 the banks call in their loans. Richard tries to "stem the tide" of stock selling, but he soon tells Mary they are bankrupt. Mary consoles Richard. He says the family is dissolved. Henri has faith, but Jacques says they are heading for another war. Mary says war is a disease and that she is going to have a child. Nazis, Fascists, and Japanese armies march; also there are English ships, French troops, Russian armies, and U. S. airplanes. Richard and Mary return to New Orleans and are welcomed by Dixie with his family. Mary prays to the crucified Jesus.
This family saga explores how war and excessive capitalism destroy and cause so much hardship. The pattern is clearly foreseen that another war will come by which capitalists can make more money.