Based on a novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, a mother-dominated spinster gets psychiatric help and falls in love, transforming her personality.
Psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains) comes to see Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) at the house of her mother (Gladys Cooper), because her sister Lisa Vale (Ilka Chase) fears Charlotte will have a nervous breakdown. Dr. Jaquith gets Charlotte to show him her room. Charlotte says that on a voyage when she was twenty, she kissed an officer; but her mother caught them. Charlotte says that her mother rejected the man and orders her life. Dr. Jaquith tells Mrs. Vale that Charlotte's illness is her fault. Young June Vale (Bonita Granville) teases Charlotte, who breaks down. Dr. Jaquith puts Charlotte in a country home, and Lisa visits her.
On a voyage Charlotte meets married Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid). Deb (Lee Patrick) tells Charlotte how bad Jerry's wife is for him. In Rio de Janeiro their taxi driver crashes in the mountains. Jerry and Charlotte bundle to keep warm. They spend five days happily together before she flies to Buenos Aires to catch her boat.
Lisa and June greet Charlotte coming off the boat and are amazed at her transformation. Nurse Dora Pickford (Mary Wickes) tells Charlotte that her mother has heart trouble. Mrs. Vale orders Charlotte to nurse her, but Charlotte tells her mother she is making her own decisions now. Mrs. Vale falls down the stairs. Charlotte greets her relatives and Elliot Livingston (John Loder). Charlotte's mother tells her she will stop giving her money if she does not obey. Charlotte writes Dr. Jaquith that she may marry Elliot. Her mother is impressed that she got a Livingston. Charlotte tells Elliot that she wants to have his child; but at a party she sees Jerry, who says he still loves her. Jerry calls Charlotte he is going away on business. At the station she tells him she loves him better than Elliot; but they kiss goodbye. Charlotte tells Elliot she feels inhibited, and they break up. Charlotte tells her mother and says she was unwanted. Mrs. Vale dies, and Charlotte inherits her fortune but feels guilty.
Charlotte goes to the sanitarium and befriends Tina Durrance (Janis Wilson), who is like she was. Charlotte helps Tina call her father Jerry. Charlotte consoles crying Tina and encourages her. Dr. Jaquith talks to Charlotte, who asks about Tina's parents. Charlotte tells him that she knows Jerry but says it is over. Charlotte and Tina go camping, and Tina goes home with Charlotte. Dr. Jaquith and Jerry call on Tina, who is happy now. Charlotte looks at plans she is financing for Dr. Jaquith. Jerry tells Charlotte he is taking Tina home; but it is about them. Charlotte says she loves Tina, because she cannot be with Jerry.
This drama explores how a woman can overcome a selfish
parent's domination that has inhibited her development. Once she
knows that she can be loved, she learns how to love and give to