Lillian Hellman adapted her own play about a southern woman who uses her husband and outfoxes her greedy brothers.
In 1900 Regina Giddens (Bette Davis) has a dinner for industrialist William Marshall (Russell Hicks) from Chicago. Ben Hubbard (Charles Dingle) says his family took over that of his wife Birdie (Patricia Collinge). Ben toasts Marshall for a cotton mill they plan to build. Marshall invites Regina to Chicago. Oscar Hubbard (Carl Benton Reid) wants Horace to come back and put up $75,000 for one-third. Regina says she will get her husband to come home, and Ben offers him 40%. They hope Oscar's son Leo Hubbard (Dan Duryea) will marry Alexandra Giddens (Teresa Wright). Regina sends Alexandra to get Horace, and Birdie warns Alexandra not to marry her son Leo. Oscar slaps Birdie. Alexandra says good-bye to writer David Hewitt (Richard Carlson). Horace Giddens (Herbert Marshall) has a bad heart, and Alexandra takes care of him but sees David in the hotel with a woman. Horace gets her to apologize to her.
Leo tells his father Oscar that Horace has $90,000 in bonds in his bank box and suggests they "borrow" them. Horace and Alexandra arrive with David, whom Horace likes. Weak Horace goes up to his old room. He tells Regina that Alexandra can't marry Leo. Ben and Oscar call on Horace. Regina makes Horace hear Ben's business deal, but he is too ill. David talks with Alexandra on the porch. Regina, Ben, and Oscar tell Horace they must know his decision. Ben says they can get water from the governor and cheap labor. Horace says no, and Regina asks why. Oscar tells Ben that Leo can borrow bonds until fall. Alexandra hears Regina arguing with Horace. Ben tells Regina that Oscar is going to Marshall. Dying Horace tells Regina he is sick of her; she says she will be glad to be rid of him. Alexandra and David tease each other and join Horace with Birdie, who drinks wine and confesses Oscar married her for cotton, warning Alexandra not to be like her.
Leo works in a bank and sees Horace come in and ask to see his will. Leo talks to Horace, who then discovers bonds are missing. He takes the box home and sends servant Cal to the bank to send for a judge; Leo hears this. David plays cards with Horace and admits he is in love with Alexandra. Regina tells David not to court Alexandra, but he will not obey. Horace tells Regina their $75,000 was invested, and he suspects Leo. Horace says it is a loan so Regina won't profit. His new will leaves her the $75,000 in bonds and the rest to Alexandra. Regina admits she despises Horace. He needs medicine, but she just sits there. He tries to get it but collapses on the stairs. Then Regina calls the maid Addie (Jessica Grayson). Ben, Oscar, and Leo see the deposit box. Regina says that Horace said Leo stole the bonds and about the loan and the will. If Horace dies, Regina says she wants 75%. Outside David slaps Leo. Regina tells Ben and Oscar that Horace died. If she doesn't get 75%, they will go to jail. Ben laughs and asks Regina why Horace was on the stairs. Alexandra tells Regina she is not going to Chicago with her. Regina asks Alexandra to sleep in her room, but she asks if Regina is afraid.
This drama contrasts the selfish with the kind, who
are often weak or in weak positions, bringing home the author's
theme that American capitalism is a brutal system. Ruthless Regina
is left alone with her fear.