Adapted from Myron Brinig's novel, three sisters marry and share their marital troubles in four dramatic years.
In Montana Ned Elliott (Henry Travers) and Rose Elliott (Beulah Bondi) go to the 1904 election dance with their three daughters Louise (Bette Davis), Grace (Jane Bryan), and Helen (Anita Louise) in the automobile of Tom Knivel (Dick Foran). Helen sees Sam Johnson (Alan Hale) and meets Frank Medlin (Errol Flynn), who dances with Louise and tells her about himself. Frank stays a week to see Louise every night. Helen says that Louise is in love. Frank arrives late for dinner after a drink. At the table Frank asks Louise to marry, and she elopes with him to San Francisco. While they are fixing a flat tire, Grace agrees to marry Tom. Sam asks Helen to marry even though he is older, and she says yes so that she can travel. Ned tells Helen that she doesn't have much heart, but Rose approves.
Frank comes home drunk. Louise is pregnant and goes to a boxing match with Frank, who stopped drinking. Louise has to leave the fight and tells Frank about the baby. Louise collapses on the stairs and loses the baby. Grace has a baby, and Rose cries for Louise. Tim Hazelton (Donald Crisp) reads chapters of Frank's novel and hopes it will get better. Frank argues with his editor and is fired for drinking. Louise says she is getting a job. Frank argues and goes out to drink. In London Sam is drunk, and Norman (Patric Knowles) tells Helen that he loves her. Sam passes out and dies. Rose worries about Louise, but Ned says she has brains. Frank tells Louise his writing is rotten and his love for her is killing him. Louise says she will leave her job and depend on him. Frank tries to find a job and hears of a ship. He visits Louise at work, meeting her boss William Benson (Ian Hunter). Frank tells Benson to take her to dinner. Louise finds Frank's note he is sailing. Louise looks for the ship desperately but is detained by a policeman. The earthquake destroys Louise's building, and her neighbor Flora (Lee Patrick) clings to her. Fires rage. Frank hears of it and demands to go back but can't. Troops take Louise out so they can dynamite. Louise goes to Flora's mother in Oakland and collapses. Benson and Ned find Louise as she is recovering. Louise says her world collapsed when Frank left, but she is staying.
Two years later Grace is told that her husband is seeing Isabel. Grace writes to Louise, who goes back and summons Helen. Louise says good-bye to Benson. Helen and Louise counsel Grace, and they tell three men to have Isabel leave or they will expose them. Tim greets Frank at the boat, and they go to see Benson, learning Louise is in Montana. Benson takes Louise to the election ball. Louise tells Tim that she loves Frank, and Frank tells Louise that he loves her too.
Preview audiences, believing Louise's love for Frank despite the problems, preferred this ending to Louise marrying Benson as in the novel. Three very different sisters have diverse marital fates in these dramatic portraits.