Adapted from a play by Zoe Akins based on Edith Wharton's novel, two sisters love the same man, and one blocks the wedding of the other.
As the Civil War begins, Delia Lovell (Miriam Hopkins) is going to wed James Ralston. Delia tells her younger sister Charlotte Lovell (Bette Davis) that Clem Spender (George Brent) is arriving after Delia waited two years for him. Charlotte greets Clem at the train and tells him Delia is marrying. Clem goes to Delia and pities her boredom; he wants to take her away, but she says no. Charlotte runs after Clem, and he kisses her. Lt. Clem Spender says good-bye to Delia and Charlotte. Clem dies during the war.
In 1866 Charlotte is taking care of 22 children, and Dr. Lanskell (Donald Crisp) helps. Delia visits for the first time and says Charlotte is morose. Charlotte is marrying Joe Ralston (Jerome Cowan) but wants to continue caring for the children. Delia meets little Tina. Before her wedding Charlotte tells Delia that she won't give up her own baby. Delia asks about the father and realizes it was Clem. Charlotte says she loves Joe but is afraid to tell him. Delia tells Joe and James that Charlotte is sick and can't marry. Joe asks Dr. Lanskell about Charlotte. Joe says to Charlotte that Delia told him, and he releases her. James is near death from an accident. Charlotte comes and congratulates Joe on his marriage. Joe says that Charlotte looks well, and Charlotte learns that Delia said she was ill. Charlotte blames Delia for lying to Joe. James dies, and the widowed Delia asks Charlotte and Tina to live with her. Tina calls Delia mommy and Charlotte aunt.
Years later Delia's daughter Dee Ralston (Janet Shaw) is being wed. Tina (Jane Bryan) and her friends roll up the rug for dancing. Charlotte reprimands her, and Tina complains her aunt never danced. Charlotte tells Dr. Lanskell that Delia has spoiled Tina. Charlotte and Tina quarrel, but Tina and Delia get along well. Charlotte tells Delia that she has become an old maid so that Tina would not suspect. Later Charlotte overhears Tina with Lanning Halsey (William Lundigan). Delia comes downstairs, and Charlotte tells Tina not to let Lanning come again. Lanning says he is going away anyway. Tina blames Charlotte, who tells Delia that she will take Tina away. Delia says she could adopt Tina, and Charlotte accepts this. Tina plans to wed Lanning and thanks Delia. Dr. Lanskell tells Delia that she had to live with bitter Charlotte for her mistake in stopping her wedding. Charlotte tells Delia she is going to give Tina motherly advice and says Delia hated her and made her an old maid. Charlotte goes to Tina and says she loves her. Delia tells Tina that Charlotte did not marry, because she did not want to give up Tina. At Delia's request after her wedding Tina gives her last kiss to Charlotte.
This drama reflects the social discrimination based
on class and illegitimacy. Delia marries a Ralston from fear of
being an old maid, but lying to a Ralston causes her sister to
endure that fate in an era when a woman's social role depended
heavily on her husband.