Adapted from Elizabeth von Arnim's novel, a beautiful woman loves to flirt with men and marries a rich one to help her brother; but when she gets older, she has to adjust.
While three suitors wait, Fanny Trellis (Bette Davis) dotes on her brother Trippy (Richard Waring), who works for Skeffington but refuses to see him. Job Skeffington (Claude Rains) tells Fanny that Trippy committed fraud selling bonds and lost the money on the races. Fanny and her cousin George (Walter Abel) tell Skeffington that they have little money, and he agrees to delay prosecution. In the morning Fanny reminds Trippy they owe Skeffington $24,000. Fanny goes to Skeffington's office; but when he learns that Germany declared war, he is surrounded by talking men. Fanny posed for a portrait and will get $1,000 for charity. She follows the painting to Skeffington and marries him. He tells her that he has not won her yet. Fanny brings Job home and finds George and four suitors. Trippy comes in drunk and is insulting, but Fanny tells him he is safe and can spend money. Trippy says he is going to Europe to fight. Job finds Fanny's room locked.
After a year Job tells George that Fanny is still rejecting suitors. Fanny sees Trippy in a newsreel of the war and faints; she is pregnant. She fears being ugly and goes to Los Angeles, where she has a girl. Job and George go into the army, and Fanny still has male friends. She learns that Trippy was killed and blames Job. Fanny is seeing the bootlegger MacMahon (Robert Shayne), who says Skeffington has women. MacMahon asks Fanny to marry and offers to kill Skeffington, who comes in with his secretary. They have to flee a raid. Fanny is divorcing Job, who says she cannot love anymore. Fanny considers letting Job have their girl. Young Fanny wants to be with her father; but he says he is going to Europe and that he is Jewish. Both cry, and he agrees to take her to Switzerland.
In 1935 Fanny likes young Johnny Mitchell. Young Fanny (Marjorie Riordan) comes to live with her mother, who insists on going sailing with Johnny and becomes ill. Recovering Fanny refuses to see anyone until she gets her beauty treatment. She has hallucinations of Job gazing at her. Fanny goes to a psychiatrist (George Coulouris), who says she wants to see Job and that her romantic days are over. Fanny has a dinner party for her old friends, who notice she has changed. Broke and bald Edward (Jerome Cowan) calls on Fanny and asks her to marry, but she says she is nearly broke. Young Fanny tells her mother that she is going to marry Johnny, and she wishes that she had had a mother because being loved is important. Fanny cries with her maid. George tells Fanny that he saw Job, who was in a concentration camp and is now poor. Fanny declines to see him, but George says she has loved only herself and persuades her. Fanny finds that Job is blind and comforts him. She realizes that she is beautiful only when she is loved.
This long melodrama shows how a vain woman can be spoiled
by romantic attention if she spends her time with admirers instead
of the one who loves her. Beauty lacks substance unless it accepts