Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, the wife an amoral painter who has tuberculosis pleads with a specialist to cure him, and four other doctors are consulted.
Sir Patrick Cullen (Felix Aylmer) walks on Harley Street where medical professionals live. Reporters are turned away from the home of Colenos Ridgeon, but the housekeeper lets Cullen in. He congratulates Sir Colenos Ridgeon (John Robinson) on his knighthood. Ridgeon says he has learned how to cure consumption.
While she is modeling for the painter Louis Dubedat (Dirk Bogarde), Mrs. Jennifer Dubedat (Leslie Caron) reads in the newspaper that a cure for consumption has been found. He tells her not to move. She answers the door, and she promises to pay a bill collector. She says they refuse to deliver unless they pay. Louis hates money and calls it sordid. He coughs and says he can earn enough easily. She visualizes his skeleton.
Ridgeon shows Cullen his pamphlet, and Redpenny comes in and explains why he is late. Cullen asks a question about his cure, and Ridgeon explains how it works.
Mrs. Dubedat at the door tells the housekeeper that she came on an urgent matter.
Cullen asks Ridgeon if he hears voices, and he says no. Cullen warns him not to make a fool of himself. The housekeeper comes in and says a woman wants her husband’s lungs cured. Ridgeon says he will not see her; but he is glad to see Cutler Walpole (Alastair Sim) who came to congratulate him. Walpole says they are delighted to see him recognized. Walpole tells Cullen he invented a new saw for shoulder blades. Walpole tells Ridgeon he has blood poisoning and urges him to have an operation. Walpole says 5% of people do not have the nuciform sac, and his removing it cures people.
The housekeeper announces Sir Ralph Bloomfield-Bonington (Robert Morley) who enters the room and talks to each, telling Walpole he removed a singer’s sac by force of habit; but she got her voice back anyway and thinks he is great. Cullen asks Ralph about his practice, and Ralph tells Ridgeon he came to him for his anti-toxin and used it without getting his explanation.
Mrs. Dubedat sees the housekeeper let in Dr. Blenkinsop (Michael Gwynn). She asks Ridgeon if he will receive him, and he welcomes him. Blenkinsop is impressed by the distinguished company. Ridgeon says he felt foolish at first. Blenkinsop says the books are so expensive, and he goes by experience. Walpole says he gets experience with a knife. Blenkinsop says his patients are too poor to afford surgery, and he is poor too. Ralph says he is never sick, and Walpole offers to see if he needs his nuciform sac removed. Blenkinsop says he recommends greengages to his patients every day before lunch. Ralph says the only cure is to stimulate the phagocytes.
The housekeeper comes in and tells Walpole that his motor-car has come for him, and he says goodbye, disagrees with Ralph, and goes out. Ralph is glad that Walpole’s operation is fashionable. Ralph recommends a little mercury. Cullen says no drugs, and Walpole agrees. Walpole asks the housekeeper who the patient is. Walpole goes out, and Ridgeon tells the housekeeper to tell her that he cannot see her. Blenkinsop says he has to go and leaves. Ridgeon and Cullen mock the views of the other doctors. Cullen leaves too.
The housekeeper asks Ridgeon to see her as a favor to her. Ridgeon tells his assistant to come in and tell him he has to go the hospital. Mrs. Dubedat comes in, and Ridgeon says she bribed his servant. He says he cannot take another case, but she says her husband’s case is different. She asks if he can cure his left lung. He has her sit down and says he is not a cure-monger. He says he can save only ten patients at a time. She asks him to recommend another doctor. He says they are all full-up, and he opens the door for her. She shows him paintings her husband did, and he says a drawing is very clever. She says he is worth saving. He asks if a drawing is for sale, and she tells him to take it with the others. The assistant comes in and tells him of an emergency; but Ridgeon tells him not to talk nonsense and get out. The assistant goes out. She urges the doctor to attend to the man who is dying. He explains that he told the man to say that. He says no one is dying, and she says her husband is dying. He says if she can convince him that his life is worth more than one of his patients, then he will take his case. She says he painted those and is young. He asks the housekeeper to call a cab.
Ridgeon asks her to invite her husband to a doctor’s dinner. She says they will come and thanks him. She asks what his fee will be, and he asks for a beautiful portrait of his favorite model. She says goodbye and goes out.
Mrs. Dubedat comes home and calls to her husband.
Louis Dubedat sells a painted cloth in a shop and brings violets to his wife who tells him about the special dinner.
The doctors and the Dubedats sit around a round table dining on sumptuous food. Louis talks and coughs. Ralph mentions the lows and highs of married life by how he is called. Ralph asks Louis to sign his menu. Ridgeon says he must and will be saved. Mrs. Dubedat is happy and cries. She is sorry they have to go, and the doctors recommend that her husband go home to bed. Louis is glad to have met them, and he leaves, followed by his wife. Blenkinsop comes in with bad news about a milkman who was his patient, and he tries to catch her. Cullen says two things could be wrong with Louis, a check or a woman; but Walpole says he has no vices and loaned him £20. Ralph says Louis borrowed £10 from him and that Mrs. Dubedat has taken a fancy to him. Walpole says Louis said the same thing to him. Blenkinsop comes back and says Louis asked him for a loan of half a crown. They offer to loan money to Blenkinsop, but he declines to borrow. Walpole offers him a ride in his car.
The maid Minnie (Gwenda Ewen) comes in and ask for Dubedat’s address. She says the woman cannot be his wife because she is his wife. She has a marriage certificate, and they were married three years ago. Cullen asks why she is not living with her husband, and she says they could not afford it. After three weeks he went to London, and she never saw him again until now. Ridgeon gives her his address, and she thanks him and goes out. Ridgeon says he has agreed to cure him of tuberculosis, and Blenkinsop asks him to cure his right lung. Blenkinsop asks Walpole for a cigarette, and he recalls that Louis did not return his gold cigarette case.
At home Louis tells his wife that he will be saved and will paint better than ever. He says he owes it all to her, and they kiss and dance to the bedroom.
Outside Cullen asks Ridgeon whether he will cure Louis or Blenkinsop. Ridgeon says it is a difficult case, and he weighs their relative value and calls it a dilemma. He says he could let Dubedat die so that he could marry his widow. Cullen advises him to save both; but Ridgeon says he must choose. Cullen urges him to decide without considering Mrs. Dubedat; but Ridgeon says it is easier to replace a good man than a good picture.
Ridgeon looks at the drawing and thinks about his dilemma.
In a hospital ward Ridgeon tells Johnson that he is taking on another case and will give him his name tomorrow.
Mrs. Dubedat and Louis talk in bed. He promises not to borrow any more money without asking her. He was strong enough to work most of the day. He wants to make his darling’s house a beautiful shrine. She kisses him and urges him to finish his drawings. She says the doctor urged him also, but he reacts by saying he no longer wants to finish them. She says the doctors are coming soon, and he says they would not come unless it amused them.
Ridgeon comes in the gate to the garden and is greeted by Louis and his wife. She says she is going out and will be back to hear the verdict. She leaves, and Louis tells Ridgeon she has taken a fancy to him. He is always painting, and his current work is called “Death and the Maiden.” He says he will sell more next year at his one-man exhibition. He hates not having money to give her. Ridgeon says he has more pressing business. Louis says she has to economize on food, and he asks for a loan; but Ridgeon declines. Louis offers to give him a check, but Ridgeon refuses. Louis asks him to get his patients to buy some of his paintings. Ridgeon is upset.
Cullen, Walpole, and Ralph arrive, and Ridgeon tells them that Louis just tried to borrow £150 from him and to get him to blackmail his patients into buying his drawings. Louis says he spoke to him in confidence. Cullen says they are all in his confidence. Louis has Cullen, Ralph, and Walpole sit by the figure of death. Walpole asks Louis for his cigarette case, and Louis gives him the pawn ticket and apologizes. Ridgeon insists that Louis pay back the half crown he borrowed from poor Blenkinsop. Louis agrees he will pay it and did not realize he was hard up. He has no money, and he asks Walpole for it and gives it to Ridgeon who asks him if he knows the maid Minnie. Louis says he does and that she is a good girl. Walpole tells him not to bluff because they have seen her marriage license. Louis asks if they have seen Jennifer’s. The doctors ask if he is living with her without being married to her. Louis says he would like to draw them all looking so foolish. He says Ridgeon likes Jennifer but despises him. Louis says they concluded that Jennifer is not married. He says they do not know a lady, and their morality is suspecting others of not being legally married. Walpole says Louis has “dazzling cheek,” and he asks about Minnie. Louis says she had three weeks of happiness, and she would not change it. He says they spent all their money in three weeks and separated. He says there was no desertion nor misunderstanding. They had a wonderful time. She went back to service, and he went to Brittany. Cullen says he committed bigamy, and Ridgeon asks if he told Jennifer that he was already married. Louis says no and that it would have spoiled everything for her. Walpole asks what they should do with him. Louis says they can put him in prison, and then they can go to church and feel good. He goes up on a scaffold and starts drawing. Walpole says he has them, and Ralph asks if he is to be allowed to defy the law. Cullen says there are other laws and says he is going to die. Louis says they will all die, but Cullen says he will die in six months. Ralph objects to talking about death. Louis says he did not start it. He says their only trump card is intimidation, but it does not bother him. Ralph climbs up toward him and calls Louis a scoundrel. He backs up and says they don’t know the meaning of the word. He says it is a circular argument. Ralph feels like giving him a hiding. Louis says if he did, he would pay much to keep it out of the law-courts. Ralph goes down the steps. Louis says he is not a criminal and that he does not believe in morality. He says he did not mean to shock them. Cullen says he is retired and that his life is in the hands of the others. Ridgeon says he will not cure him. Walpole says he believes he is suffering from blood poisoning, and he will remove the nuciform sac. Louis says no thank you unless it does not hurt. He asks how much Walpole will pay him to let him do it. Louis offers to give him a painting but not his sac he cannot replace. Ralph says he will not say no, and he will stimulate his phagocytes. Cullen asks to be excused. Louis asks what they accomplished with their talk, and he shows them the drawing he did. Cullen says it is good. Louis says it is worth at least five guineas to him. Ralph offers six, and Walpole bids ten. Louis says it is of Cullen, and he will let him have it for twelve guineas. Cullen declines, and Ralph says he will pay twelve and hands it to Cullen. He tells Louis that his fees will come to more than that. As they are leaving, Louis calls in Jennifer.
In the garden Jennifer thanks them for coming, and they shake her hand. She asks Cullen if he is worse, and Cullen says he is the same. Ralph tells her that he is handling his case. She is confused, and they leave in a carriage with Ralph saying goodbye.
Ridgeon hears knocking on the front door and comes down the stairs. He opens the door, and Jennifer comes in. She says she wishes he was going to cure Louis. She asks why he gave him up. He says the extra place has been taken by Dr. Blenkinsop who is more worthy. She asks why everyone turns against him. She asks him to forgive him for being more clever and for being a great artist. She says no one has ever said anything about him that is noble. She asks him, but Ridgeon says he cannot say one thing against him. She says his manner has changed, and he broke his promise. He says he has had the best medical advice in London. She has faith in him but not in the others. She feels he knows. She says she is his wife and knows his selfishness and how he shocks people. She asks if he borrowed money from him, and she apologizes and says he will never do it again. She says that was his only weakness. She admits he can be weak about women, and he does not believe in morality. Even his friends turn against him. She wishes he knew his other side. She says if Louis dishonored himself, she would kill herself. She says he does not know her, and he asks about her. She says she has dreams. She wants to save a great artist from poverty. She persuaded him to marry her, and he agreed like a child. She gave him herself and all she had. If she loses faith in him, it would wreck her life. She says he must make him well for her. She pleads that he take Louis and let Ralph cure Dr. Blenkinsop. He asks if she believes in his knowledge and skill. He says her hero must be preserved, and the only chance he has is by Ralph. She believes him and says she has no more doubt.
Ralph enters the Dubedat’s garden and declines to talk to a reporter.
At Ridgeon’s home Cullen tells Ridgeon that Louis has galloping consumption and will not outlast the afternoon. Ridgeon hopes he will die before she finds out. Cullen says it is hard for a man to die because his wife has too high of an opinion of him. They go out.
In the studio Ralph tells Ridgeon and Cullen it is a fascinating case. He talks about the phagocytes, and Walpole comes in and says he has killed him because of the blood poisoning. Ralph tells Walpole that Ridgeon is responsible for his death. Jennifer appears and says a reporter wants to interview him. She says Louis insists on seeing him. She says that Cullen advised letting him do whatever he wants. Ralph agrees it may do good if it does no harm. She asks Walpole to tell the man he may come in. She asks Ralph to let her take him to Brittany, and he approves.
The reporter comes in the studio and asks who Walpole is. Walpole says Louis will talk to him because he does not know how bad he is. He warns the reporter not to talk to him but listen. Louis comes and sits down. The reporter asks his plans for the season, and Louis says he is going to die. Jennifer cries and sobs on his chest. Louis says he has been listening to doctors and laughing to himself. He tells her not to cry because it makes her ugly. She tells him not to talk. Walpole makes the reporter go out. Louis asks Ridgeon for something to keep him going because he has things to say before he goes. Ridgeon pours alcohol into coffee. Louis asks Jennifer to promise not to be a widow. He wants people to see in her eyes that she was married to him. He says she has been in heaven with him. He does not want her to wear black and cry. She says she never lived until she knew him. He tells her to wear beautiful dresses and think of the paintings he never will paint. She can be transfigured by their beauty. He wants a great atmosphere of wonder and romance that they will think of when they think of him. He asks her to promise him that immortality and to avoid mourning and vulgar rubbish. She promises and cries. Louis calls Ralph poor, and Ralph says his brain is going. Louis asks her if she remembers about the burning bush. She tells how they built a fire in Brittany, and he says how colorful the flames were. He says he shall be a flame in the burning bush. He says she will marry again. People happy in marriage always marry again. He tells her not to talk about him to the other fellow. Cullen says he has talked enough and advises him to rest. Louis says he will have a long rest presently. He wants to tell the doctors some things. He says the voice of Ridgeon sounded devilish. He says he is cleverer than they imagine. He says he has been threatened, blackmailed, insulted, and served. Now he feels peace and the mystery of God everlasting. He wants to rest his head on her bosom, but it might tire her. She leans against him and tells him to lean on her. He says he wants to sleep, and he closes his eyes. Cullen offers to move his arm and says he will never wake again. She asks if that is death, and he says yes. The church bell tolls, and she asks them to wait because she will come back. She goes up the stairs.
Cullen says that is how the wicked die. He says what matters more is how a person lives. Ralph asks them not to be hard on him. His only two failings were money and women. Walpole objects to his disregard of others. Ralph quotes Shakespeare about the good living after while the bad dies. They see Jennifer returning in a red dress and carrying a red coat. She says she wants to shake hands with his friends, and she does so. Cullen advises her to let her solicitor open his letters. He, Ralph, and Walpole, shake her hand, say goodbye, and go out; but she refuses to shake hands with Ridgeon who goes out.
Jennifer sits by a window and sees a flame outside. She hears the voice of Louis calling her name and saying the last of him will be the flame in the burning bush.
Dressed in gray, Jennifer gets out of a carriage and returns to the studio. She hears a knock and lets Dr. Blenkinsop come in. He says he has been made a medical officer of health for having cured the chairman of a council with greengages. He says he has been fortunate, and she agrees because his life was spared. He says he did not know that it was a choice between her husband’s life and his. He says her husband was a great artist who could not be replaced; but he can. He asks her not to blame Ridgeon because they are friends. She excuses herself and goes out to open the gate for a collector who is coming to see the paintings.
At the exhibition of Dubedat’s paintings Ridgeon is given a program. A lady says everyone is there. Jennifer sees Ridgeon and congratulates him for his curing Dr. Blenkinsop. He asks if she wants to reproach him. She says to him her husband was only a clever brute. Ridgeon pleads, and she says she will forgive him if he admits he made a mistake. He says he is there in his pictures. She says he could have made more pictures. Ridgeon says he is sorry, and he wants a picture to be sold to him. She says it was bought for her birthday by her husband over there. He asks if she has married again. She says happily married people marry again. She goes to her new husband and takes his arm. Ridgeon hears the voice of Louis call his name and say he got him that time.
This comedy satirizes the sophisticated doctors who think they have special cures for almost anything. Their scientific approach to life is contrasted to the amoral artist who lives a romantically life in love with women and artistic beauty while borrowing money to survive financially.