An ambitious Vaudeville entertainer wants to marry his singing partner, but the World War gets in his way.
In 1916 dancing clown Harry Palmer (Gene Kelly) competes with Jimmy Metcalf (George Murphy), who sings "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" and dances with Jo Hayden (Judy Garland). Her brother Danny Hayden (Richard Quine) is persuaded by her to go back to medical school as they agreed. Harry asks Jo to be his partner and gives her a new arrangement he bought. She sings "For Me and My Gal" with him, and they dance. Harry admits he is a heel. Jim tells Jo to team up with Harry. In the show Harry and Jo sing "When You Wore a Tulip."
The United States goes to war. On a train Harry meets star Eve Minard (Martha Eggerth) in her special car. Eve sings "Do I Love You." Jim calls on Jo and learns that she is in love with Harry, who is out with Eve. On stage Jo sings "After You've Gone." Jo goes to Eve and says she loves Harry. Eve says Harry is an opportunist and proves it by asking him to join her act. Jo tells Harry she can go back with Jim and cries. Harry kisses Jo and realizes he loves her. They learn they are playing the Palace in New York. They see Jim and say they are getting married; but their agent Eddie (Keenan Wynn) tells them they are playing Newark. Jo postpones the wedding.
Soldier Danny tells Jo he is sailing. Jo and Harry perform "Balling the Jack." They learn they start at the Palace in October, but Harry gets his draft notice. Eddie tells Harry that he must take his physical. Harry injures his fingers and is told to come back later. Jim is in uniform, and Jo learns that Danny was killed. Harry comes in; Jo pities him and tells him to leave her alone. A doctor tells Harry he is crippled. Harry wants to get into the military but can't. He asks Eddie for help and admits his mistake. Sid (Ben Blue) asks Harry to help sell Liberty bonds.
In Paris Jim leads his men to a show, where Jo sings "How You Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm." Jim sees Harry in uniform and accepts him. Jim lets Harry meet Jo, who says he is not a coward. A montage of scenes shows Jo and Harry with Sid entertaining troops. In an emergency Harry takes a car to warn ambulances and destroys a machine gun with a grenade. Soldiers return to New York. Jo plays the Palace and sees Harry. They sing "For Me and My Gal."
This propaganda musical uses the first world war to
promote the second by portraying avoidance of the draft as a terrible
mistake that can be redeemed by joining the killing.