Adapted from Fannie Hurst's novel, a temperamental violinist's career is helped by a married woman who falls in love with him.
The violinist Paul Boray (John Garfield) recalls his childhood. His father Rudy Boray (J. Carrol Naish) refuses to buy little Paul (Robert Blake) a violin, but his mother Esther Boray (Ruth Nelson) gets it for him. Paul practices violin and grows up. Paul plays in an orchestra and talks to Gina (Joan Chandler) on their way home; she says she loves him. His brother Phil complains about Paul's playing. Paul tells Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant) he needs a job. Sid plays a concerto in a radio rehearsal; but it is cut down, and Paul quits. Paul practices with Sid, who advises him. At a society party Sid plays piano, and Paul meets Victor Wright (Paul Cavanagh). Helen Wright (Joan Crawford) listens to Paul play. She and Paul spar verbally. Paul gets a cigarette case from Helen. She finds him a manager, Bauer (Richard Gaines), and finances his concert. His parents and Gina attend. Sid tells Paul he did well. At breakfast his father reads the reviews, but Paul went to Helen's party instead of his family's.
Helen gets the conductor Anton Hagerstrom (Fritz Lieber) to hear Paul play. Sid leaves with Hagerstrom, and Paul objects to Helen's methods. At her beach house Paul tells her that she is lonely. Sid makes sarcastic cracks. Helen falls off a horse, and Paul kisses her. Helen says she drank to avoid herself, and she loves him. Esther reminds Paul that he missed his date with Gina and that Helen is married.
Paul goes on tour and comes back to Bauer's office, where he sees Gina. She tells Paul that he has changed. Helen arrives with Sid, sees Gina, and leaves. Paul drinks with Helen, who is jealous. Paul plays as Hagerstrom conducts. His mother watches Helen's reactions, and Gina walks out crying. Sid tells Paul not to believe what people write. His parents see his new place. Paul tells his mother that he is in love with Helen, and she slaps him. Victor Wright tells Helen he could give her a divorce. Paul rehearses a concerto, and Helen writes him a note. Paul ignores the note, and she leaves. Paul calls Sid to ask where Helen is. Helen drinks and cries. Paul comes in to take the drunk Helen home. Paul and Helen say goodnight to Sid. She tells Paul that Victor will give her a divorce. Paul asks what else happened and says he wants to marry her. Helen says that he is married to his music.
Helen comes to see Esther, who says the marriage may fail. Before a concert Helen calls Paul that she is not coming. She listens to the concert by radio. Paul plays Tristan und Isolde. Helen drinks and walks outside on the beach and into the ocean. At the beach Paul tells Sid that he is lonely, but to tell Bauer he won't run away.
This melodrama explores the drive it takes to develop
talent and the excitement it brings to the otherwise bored. Yet
for every success many fine artists, like the cynical Sid, achieve
little recognition. Helen has the money to be independent; yet
she becomes a parasite on those who represent her hobby.