Based on the musical play by John O’Hara with songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, a womanizing singer gets a job in a night club and is torn between a beautiful chorus girl and a wealthy lady he used to know.
Police have arrested Joey Evans (Frank Sinatra) who says he never laid a hand on her. The police say she was under-age and the mayor’s daughter. They force him to leave town by giving him a ticket and throwing him on a train.
Joey gets off the train at night. The next day he is on a ferry to San Francisco. He walks through the station and avoids police. He walks on the street on the Barbary Coast and tries to get a job as a singer. He sees a place that was closed by the police. At night he notices a girls show with a band and goes in. He tells his friend Ned Galvin (Bobby Sherwood), the band leader, that he came to pay his debt from his first week’s salary. Joey tells him he has turned over a new leaf. In the show six chorus girls sing “Red-hot Mama.” He asks who the blonde Linda English (Kim Novak) is. Ned tells him to leave her alone because she wants to be a singer. After the number Joey jumps up on the stage and sings “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” He asks the boss Mike Miggins (Hank Henry) when he starts, and Mike says he already started. Joey asks for his picture outside. Mike says he has heard about him and warns him to keep away from the customers’ dames, or he will be fired. Joey asks for $200 a week and says he will take less.
Joey dances with the chorus girls as they sing “San Francisco.”
In a restaurant Joey is talking with Ned, and Linda sits down next to Ned. He gets a phone call and excuses himself. Gladys (Barbara Nichols) sits down between them and tells Joey she knows about him. Ned comes back and says the bus broke down. Joey invites himself to go with them.
At the elegant party Joey sings “There’s a Small Hotel.” He learns the mansion is owned by Vera Simpson (Rita Hayworth) who is wealthy now, but he remembers her as a stripper. At the end of an auction Vera tells them how much they raised for the children’s hospital. Joey comes up and asks the audience how much they would pay to see Vera do her famous number from the past. He begins the bidding with $1,000 and says she promised she would do it the same as she did on the New York stage except she promised the police she would never do it that way again. Others bid, and he gets someone to bid $5,000. Vera sings “Zip” as she removes her gloves and sings about her intellectual quirks. She announces that supper is being served on the terrace, but she tells Joey that the help is being fed in the kitchen.
Joey, Linda, and Ned get off a cable car late at night. Ned unlocks her door while she asks Joey what he would have done if he his bid for $4,000 won. He says he would have killed himself. Ned complains about his attention to Linda, and Joey says she is not his type. Ned gives Joey $20 as his share of the take and tells him to get his own room. Joey goes to the rooming house and tells the landlady he wants to rent the room. He gives her $10 to tip the boy bringing his luggage from the airport, and she lets him in. She says he shares a bath. She shows him the room and says she does not allow guests of the opposite sex who are not related. He gives her $10 on account. Mrs. Casey introduces Linda to Joey, and she is not happy to see him.
The next day Joey buys a suit and promises to send his money and his friends. Joey sees Linda looking at pets in a store, and she says she is not Ned’s girl. Joey says he likes dogs.
At the club Mike sees Joey kissing a chorus girl in his dressing-room without a door. Mike says he does not trust him behind a door. Another chorus girl wants to see Joey. A third chorus girl brings his laundered shirts. Mike says he moved in on every doll but Gladys and Linda.
Joey goes on stage and sings “I Could Write a Book.” He pulls Linda on stage with him and dances with her. She sings the last part with him. He tells Mike that he is baiting the trap.
Joey in his room knocks on the bathroom door, and Linda says she is taking a bath. He offers to take her out to dinner.
They stop at the pet shop again, and they both want to own the dog. She urges him to buy the dog for $25 instead of taking her out to dinner. She gives him the dog and says he will never be lonely again. She tells him to go home with the dog.
In his room Joey talks to his dog. He makes the dog stay off the bed.
At a restaurant Joey is about to give his dog a chicken bone, but Linda comes in and stops him. She admits she played a dirty trick on him, but he says he is beginning to grow on him as she is. Mike is informed that Vera Simpson just came in, and they go back to the club.
Joey tells Mike that he has a system with dames. He treats a lady like a dame and a dame like a lady. Joey goes over to Vera, and she invites him to sit down with them. Joey talks about his flying a sports plane. He orders the best champagne, She declines food and says they ate before they came. He pretends that he came there to help a friend. He tells her he is thinking of opening his own place. She says she would be there every night and asks what they should call it and suggests “Chez Joey.” They drink a toast. Ned calls show time, and Joey gets up for his song, but Vera and her friends leave. Mike tells Joey he is fired. Joey says she had to do that with her two friends. Joey offers a bet that she will come back by Saturday, or he loses his week’s salary. If she comes back, he gets a raise.
On her terrace a butler tells Vera she has a visitor. Joey says he is going away because he lost his job. He says he did not want her to think that she appeals to him in anything except her money. He says she will regret throwing him away. She invites him for lunch, but he says he has a luncheon with a dog.
Joey comes into his room and feeds his dog a bagel with coffee.
At work Linda comes in to see Joey because she heard he was leaving. He says he got a wire from Hollywood. She asks why he didn’t tell her. He says she is the only girl he cares about. She likes the dog, and he suggests the three have supper tonight. She goes out to change clothes. Gladys says she heard he is leaving. The chef gives Joey some chops for his dog, but Gladys says he eats them himself.
Vera comes in and asks if she is too late. She would like some entertainment and sits down. She asks for the singer, and Mike tells Joey to sing. She asks for a surprise. The musicians come back, and Joey tells them the number. He plays piano and sings “The Lady Is a Tramp” about an aristocratic woman who is not artificial. Vera smiles, and he offers his hand. She comes on stage, and they dance. Mike is impressed. She tells him to go with her, and they walk out.
He drives her car to the harbor, and he sees her yacht. She invites him on board, and he calls it a hideout. She says her husband gave it to her. She shows him the master suite, and she says her husband died two years ago. He suggests she could go back into show business because they could make a good team. He urges her to get out of something uncomfortable, but she declines. She sits at a bar, and he pours drinks. He has been poor but hopes to have his own place and be his own boss. They toast Chez Joey. He tries to be suave and mutilates French. She says he would give a lot for a place like that. He says anything and proposes they could be partners. She asks what she gets out of it. She says there is nothing she does not have. He says two years is a long time between drinks, and she slaps him. He says she can hit harder than that and kisses her.
In the morning Vera wakes up in bed and tells her maid she is great. She knows he is a fool, but she is in love. She sings “Bewitched” while she looks at herself in a mirror. She pours her tea and takes it into her luxurious bathroom. She takes a shower.
Joey is shaving in his room and asks Linda if she is up and says he wants to talk to her. She comes in his room, and he asks why she is so cold to him. He figures it is because he took a powder. He tells her he is going to take the club with him on to Knob Hill. She asks if somebody died. He says he has a partner, Mrs. Simpson. She asks if it includes everything. He say he has a good number for her in the show. She stalks out of his room and takes the dog. She says not even a dog should live with him. He says goodbye to his dog and says she acts likes all nice girls, lousy.
Joey drives a T-bird convertible and sees the Chez Joey sign going up. He goes inside where people are rehearsing. He tells Gladys she has a job there too, but he calls her a rat. Joey is being fitted for a suit and wants wide shoulders, but Vera disagrees.
Later Joey tells Linda it is a dream come true for him. He says it took a lot of work, but she says that is not how he got it. She says maybe he is in love with Vera. They talk about the dog, and Linda goes out.
Vera toots her car horn, and Joey comes out and gets in the driver seat. She asks about the girl, and he says she is a mouse in the chorus line. He says he gave her his dog.
In the new club at a rehearsal Linda sings “My Funny Valentine.” Vera comes in and watches Joey watching her while petting the dog. Vera sits down and asks when the mouse sprang from the chorus. Joey says he and Ned thought she was ready. Vera asks ready for what. Joey says she was pretty good and orders the kicking-around number. Vera says she is not good there but somewhere else. He asks if she wants him to fire her, and Vera says yes. He says it is stinking trick. He goes to Linda’s dressing-room and says he wants her to do the strip number. She says Gladys has that number. He says she is the best mouse and should do it. She refuses to do it and realizes that his girlfriend wanted to get rid of her. She suggests they call the place Chez Vera. She says he has run his errand, and he goes out. He goes back to Vera and says she quit. Vera says that is the same thing and that she will find another job. Joey and Vera leave. Linda goes to the bar and orders two strong drinks.
Joey is lounging on a sofa, and Vera comes in. He likes her dress, and she tells him to hurry up because she is giving a dinner party. He would make thirteen, and she says he has to leave. He says he does not want to eat with them anyway, and he will see her at the boat later. She kisses him and tells him not to eat onions. He leaves.
Joey answers the phone and asks what happened. Vera says she had to hear an opera number. The dog and Linda come in, and he tells Vera he will see her tomorrow. He realizes she is drunk, and she says she will do the strip. She admits she has a good shape and that she is stacked. She puts her arms around him and kisses him and passes out. He manages to throw her on the bed. He goes out and closes the door. He hums and sings “Bewitched.” He leaves her on the bed with the dog.
In the morning Joey greets Linda who has her first hangover. She asks what she did last night, and he says she kissed him. He says she was great. She passed out, and they were both ashamed. She asks what he did, and he says nothing. He offers her some breakfast. He offers her a remedy for a hangover and pours her tomato juice. He gives the dog a bagel in a cup of coffee. He says he picked that up from him. She says where she came from a girl does not spend the night and stay for breakfast. She asks about last night, and he says it takes two to tango. She asks why he is ashamed of his good impulses, and he says because they are so few. She says she should go, but he kisses her. She says she should start rehearsing that number, and she learns it was his idea. She says she will do it, and he is glad.
Mike inspects the waiters. Joey rehearses and warns waiters not to make noise during the show. He calls for the next number. Linda is in a hoop dress, and two maids undress her. Joey is watching, and Vera comes in. Linda is down to a corset, and Mike says he never thought she would do it. Joey tells her to hold it and tells them to stop drooling. Gladys calls him Prince Valiant, and he tells her to do the number. She says it is a pleasure.
Joey goes into Linda’s dressing-room. She is crying and says she wanted to die. He says a nice girl is a nice girl anywhere. He tells her to put on her dress because they are going to do the love song. She embraces him. Mike comes in and tells Joey that Vera wants to see him.
Joey goes into her office and asks how she liked the rehearsal. Vera says he lied to her about Linda quitting. He says she did, but changed her mind. Vera tells him to get her out of there. He asks if that is an order, and she says it is. He does not like orders. She says he will do what she says, or the club will not open. She says he made a fool of himself and of her. She tells him to tell her that she is through. He says that nobody owns Joey but Joey. Vera goes out and tells Mike to pay everyone because the show is not going to open and to take down the sign. She leaves. Mike asks if he should break the news, but Joey says he will do it. Joey tries out the microphone and announces that the joint has folded. They laugh, and he says Chez Joey will not open tonight or any night. He says the lady picked up her marbles and went home. He goes into his dress-room, and Linda comes into the dark room. He tells her to beat it and leave him alone. She goes out.
Vera picks up a phone but puts it down. The butler says someone came to see her, and she says to show him in. He says it is a young lady, and she agrees to see Linda. She tells Vera that there is nothing between them. She says Vera is not just hurting Joey but a lot of other people too. Vera says Linda is in love with him. Linda says Joey is better than he thinks. Vera agrees there is nothing between them, but that makes her more dangerous. She says when he told her to keep her clothes on, he played his greatest love scene. Vera says if English was not there, the club could open. She warns Linda not to tell Joey why she is leaving because he does not like to be under any obligation except financial. Linda leaves.
Joey is packing his new clothes. Vera comes into his room and says he can unpack because she changed her mind. He keeps packing. She says the club will open, and it won’t happen again. He doubts her. She says she will prove it by marrying him. He says they are not going anywhere. He says he is doing her a big favor. He says that will not make an honest man out of a bum like him. He thanks her for use of the pad. She realizes it is over and asks if it is the mouse. He says maybe.. She suggests he should tell her. He asks why he should louse up her life.
Joey is alone in the club and realizes he blew this club on account of two dames. He plays a tune on the piano. In his imagination he sings “What Do I Care for a Dame.“ In his fantasy he is on stage with Linda and Vera. They are in black and dance around him.
Joey says goodbye to the T-bird and tosses the keys on the seat. In another car Vera and Linda have been waiting. Linda with the dog goes over to Joey and asks where they are going. He says he is going to Sacramento. She says he asked her to do the love song together. She says she could be good for him. He says he does not want to be hemmed in and tells her to beat it with the mutt. He tells her to get out while she has the chance. He says he has a low boiling point. He kisses her and says they are not so bad. She says she can strip, and he tells her not to bring that up again. She asks about her billing and suggests she use his last name. He includes the dog, and they walk toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
This sanitized version of the play still entertains with the songs and romantic sparring that comes from sexual tension. The independent man could not be happy with a woman who wants to use her money to control him.