A woman learns her husband was killed and remarries. When her son wants to go to war, her first husband returns deformed and using another name.
On armistice day in 1918 Hamilton and his son Larry Hamilton (George Brent) declare a holiday. Elizabeth MacDonald (Claudette Colbert) gets a telegram that her husband John was killed. She recalls when John MacDonald (Orson Welles) first put on the uniform. He promises to come back. At work Elizabeth faints. Larry takes her to his Aunt Jessica (Lucile Watson), who says she is going to have a baby. In a hospital John's face is bandaged, and he wants to die. The doctor urges him to live. Larry visits Elizabeth and hands her a box of John's things. Elizabeth has a boy. Larry invites her to live in his house and kisses her.
Twenty years later her son Drew (Richard Long) is grown. Larry tells Elizabeth that Poland was invaded. Erik Kessler (Orson Welles) arrives in New York with the little girl Margaret (Natalie Wood), and they go to Baltimore. Kessler works for Larry on chemistry, and Larry invites him to dinner. Kessler comes in and recognizes Elizabeth. Drew serves Kessler and dances with Cherry (Joyce Mackenzie). Drew tells Elizabeth and Larry that he wants to join the RAF. Elizabeth gets upset.
At home Kessler talks with Margaret and rereads a letter from Elizabeth. Kessler and Margaret bring flowers to Elizabeth. Drew likes history and asks Kessler about the war. Drew says Germany wants more. Drew says his friend's parents are letting him join the RAF. His younger brother Brian (Sonny Howe) says Drew should decide for himself. Elizabeth says that Drew is not Larry's son, but Larry considers him his son. Elizabeth tells Kessler that her husband was killed in war, and she asks him not to come there anymore. Margaret cries from fear, and Kessler says that Nazis killed her mother. He says that her father was a doctor and saved his life. Elizabeth apologizes to Kessler as he leaves.
Elizabeth recalls John, and she visits her old abandoned house. Kessler arrives, and Elizabeth says it is her wedding anniversary. She wonders if John is alive. Kessler advises her not to tell Drew about his father. Elizabeth says that Kessler is John, but he denies it. Kessler sees Drew at the plant, and Drew leaves a note for his father. Elizabeth calls Kessler and says that Drew is not home yet. Kessler says he will find him. Kessler reads the letter and takes a cab to the station to stop Drew. He tells him he read the letter for his father and takes Drew's tickets. Kessler says he is his father's friend, and he takes Drew home in the rain. Kessler coughs, and Aunt Jessica gives him a drink. Elizabeth shows Kessler John's things and says that he killed John. She says Kessler is John, but Kessler says she cannot bring back the past. Kessler says that John would not want her back. He says the past is gone, and they must learn to live for tomorrow. Larry comes home. Elizabeth helps Drew pack for Canada and says that Kessler helped her see many things. At home Kessler burns her letters and collapses. In the final scene Elizabeth and Larry go to see Kessler, who has died, and they take Margaret home.
This drama explores the pain caused by losses in war
and the fear that the one's children may also suffer. The unusual
situation is poignant, but the characters must come to realize
that they cannot go back but only forward into the future. Tragically
the son is enthusiastically repeating the mistake his father made
in joining the organized killing.