An aging movie star is broke and desperately needs a part to revive her ruined career. A fellow actor helps her get back on her feet and advises her to become an ordinary person.
Margaret Elliot (Bette Davis) sees her personal effects being auctioned and asks her agent Harry Stone (Warner Anderson) to get her a good part. He suggests that she ask her ex-husband for money. Margaret visits her daughter Gretchen (Natalie Wood) and gives excuses why Gretchen can’t live with her yet. Margaret asks her husband’s wife Peggy for money. Margaret tells Gretchen she will be starting a new picture soon.
Margaret owes rent and tells her sister (Fay Baker) that she is broke. Roy (Herb Vigran) asks Margaret for their monthly check, and she tells them to get out. Margaret drinks while driving by stars’ homes with her Oscar. She drives recklessly and is put in jail. Jim Johannson (Sterling Hayden) pays $250 to bail her out. In his car she asks him why he did it. He says she got him a role. Margaret is locked out of her apartment and goes with Jim to his shipyard. He lets her sleep.
Margaret wakes, sees the headline about her, and calls Gretchen to explain. Jim says she can stay there for a few days. Margaret says she is “box office poison.” Radio news says she is missing. Jim admits that he was in love with her. She slaps him and runs out. She asks for sleeping pills but has no prescription. She steals perfume, but it is for display and has no odor.
Jim takes Margaret and Gretchen sailing. He suggests that Margaret get a job in a store. Margaret lies in her interview. She sells lingerie, is recognized, and quits. She goes to Harry and demands a part. Harry asks Joe Morrison (Minor Watson) to give her a part. Margaret agrees to test for the older sister.
Jim advises Margaret to cooperate. After make-up preparation Margaret improves her appearance. She takes over the set from the young director and tries for the younger role.
Margaret arrives with new clothes and asks Jim to go out to celebrate. She falls asleep and wakes at 1 a.m. Jim asks why she tortures herself.
Margaret goes to see her test and realizes she messed it up. Harry finds her crying. He takes her to his home, and his wife gives her a room. Margaret wakes during a party, and she overhears that someone got her part. Richard Stanley (Paul Frees) tells Harry he wrote a script that would be good for Margaret. Richard tells her it is about an ambitious star who is falling. Margaret leaves and drives to pick up Gretchen. They to go Jim, who hugs Gretchen and kisses Margaret.
This drama is said to depict the career situation of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, the dilemma faced by many leading actresses who have to make adjustments as they age. Coming down from the top can be more challenging than climbing up.