An alcoholic ex-professor and widower is courted by the political machine for his vote, which enables him to keep his children.
In 1923 at seven a.m. Gregory Vance (John Barrymore) buys bootleg liquor from the milkman. His son Donald Ainslee Vance (Donald Holden) and daughter Joan Vance (Virginia Wiedler) get Vance to take castor oil and send him to bed after a discourse on Caesar. At school bully Davy McCarthy (Benny Bartlett) calls Donald's father a drunk, and they fight. Iron Hat McCarthy (Donald MacBride) gives the kids candy. New teacher Agnes Billow (Katharine Alexander) finds Davy knows nothing of Caesar, but Donald and Joan learned from their father. In a fight Donald pushes Davy into cement. Joan and Donald sneak a ride to Ainslee Farm but do not tell their grandparents who they are. Miss Billow calls on Vance and learns that he wrote histories she has read. Joan and Donald are given a meal, and Chester Ainslee (Brandon Tynan) shows them a portrait of their late mother. McCarthy gets Vance fired from his watchman job.
At a party meeting Charles Dale (William Demarest) says their precincts can win the election. McCarthy comes in late and says that Vance controls his precinct. McCarthy orders twelve bottles for Vance if he will go home. Vance finds Joan and Donald asleep on the couch. Donald and Joan say they went to the Ainslees and that they could all live there. McCarthy comes in and gives them candy. For his vote McCarthy offers Vance positions as janitor and school board; but Joan and Donald hold out until he is offered commissioner of schools. Davy barges in, but McCarthy kicks his son out. Vance and McCarthy drink to the straight ticket. Vance irons his pants. Phoebe Ainslee (Elisabeth Risdon) and Chester Ainslee arrive with Miss Billow and officials to inspect the house. Vance's pants are burned by the iron. Vance says he is the new school commissioner, but they don't believe him.
On election day people are told to vote with Vance, who puts on McCarthy's hat and suit for the parade. Vance votes and is cheered. In his speech Vance says that greatness is in people, not a man. Vance appoints Miss Billow school principal. He smiles at the Mayor (Granville Bates) but says he didn't vote for him.
This comedy reflects the disparity between the great
talent of John Barrymore and the ruin of it caused by alcoholism.
In this case a historian has degenerated to being a night watchman
but tries to salvage a career by promising the political boss
his vote. Nonetheless the children of his anarchic home shine
far above the bullying son of the political boss and prefer it
to the farm of their doting grandparents.