Adapted from Arnold Bennett’s novel, a poor man uses various ingenious ideas to make money and raise his social status while a pretty woman tries to take advantage of him.
The boy secretly raises his own marks in school. Grown-up Denry Machin (Alec Guinness) finds a wallet and gets a job as a clerk for Mr. Duncalf (Edward Chapman). The Countess of Chell (Valerie Hobson) comes in and asks for invitations to be sent out for a ball. He fantasizes dancing with her and writes his name on one. Denry shows his invitation to his mother (Veronica Turleigh). He trades an invitation for a suit and another for dance lessons from Ruth Earp (Glynis Johns).
At the ball Denry bets he can dance with the Countess and does so. Mr. Duncalf finds out and gives Denry a week’s notice. Denry offers to collect rents for Mrs. Codleyn for 5%, and he lends money to some at interest. Mr. Calvert hires Denry to collect from Ruth Earp, who owes £30. She says that Mr. Calvert insulted her. Denry threatens to send a bailiff, and she offers him tea.
At night Denry sees a runaway wagon and rides it into a canal. Ruth calls to him, and he sees her furniture in the wagon. He rescues her. Denry gives Mr. Calvert £10 from Ruth.
Denry and Ruth go on a vacation with Nellie Cotterill (Petula Clark) as chaperone. He spends money entertaining them. During a storm he hands his bag of rent money to Ruth. She uses it to help people and to pay the bill. Denry buys the damaged boat and hires the former owner. Denry refuses to buy Ruth a gift. Tourists pay to go on the historic boat. Denry says he thought of it.
Denry brings his mother a bucket of coins with more than a thousand pounds. He starts a Thrift Club that loans money without interest, but he gets the merchants to give him 15% on the merchandise bought. He gives deposits and asks a banker for capital, but he is not respectable.
The Countess’s coach breaks down, and Denry gives her a ride to a charity event in the town square. They hit a fruit stand, and the Countess drives back. Denry gives a pitch for the charity and buys something cheap for £50.
Denry gives his mother a shawl. His club has 2,000 members, and he buys a car. He learns that Ruth is a widow and rich. She tells him he can do anything he wants. Denry helps a local football club get its star back. Ruth offers to share the costs with Denry. He kisses Nellie goodbye and leaves with her. He asks Nellie to marry him. Ruth meets a lord. Denry becomes mayor and runs after a mule.
This comedy satirizes social customs by showing how a poor man can achieve success and prominence so easily, offering audiences an amusing fantasy.