Based on the play by Kaufman and Hart, an egotistic lecturer moves in on a family and tries to manipulate people's lives.
Ernest Stanley (Grant Mitchell) and Daisy Stanley (Billie Burke) invite Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) to dinner with his secretary Maggie Cutler (Bette Davis). Whiteside slips on the stairs, and his lectures are canceled. People rush around serving Whiteside, who is wheeled in by nurse Preen (Mary Wickes) and says he is suing Stanley. Whiteside demands to use the main rooms and sarcastically gives orders. Maggie reprimands his manners. On the phone Whiteside talks to actress Lorraine Sheldon (Ann Sheridan). Reporter Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis) comes in and says he needs an interview. Whiteside has lunch with convicted murderers and Jefferson. Ernest finds Whiteside with Chinese men and complains about the telephone bill. Maggie ice skates with Bert, and he reads his play to her. She likes it and kisses him. Maggie tells Whiteside that she is in love and resigns. Dr. Bradley (George Barbier) tells Whiteside that he is well, but Whiteside offers to help him with his book if he won't tell anyone. Whiteside calls Lorraine that he has a play for her and persuades her to come.
On Christmas Eve Bert takes Maggie out. Four penguins are brought in, and Whiteside tells Dr. Bradley to catch them. Whiteside urges Richard Stanley (Russell Arms) to travel. June Stanley (Elisabeth Fraser) tells Whiteside that she loves Sandy, a union organizer. Whiteside advises her to marry him. Harriet Stanley (Ruth Vivian) gives Whiteside an old photo. Bert gives Maggie a bracelet with charms. Lorraine arrives in fur and tells Whiteside the gossip. Whiteside says the play is by Bert, and she can work on him. Maggie and Bert come in, and Lorraine gets a ride with Bert. Maggie blames Whiteside. June is running off with Sandy. Beverly (Reginald Gardiner) arrives and says how clever he is, making fun of Lorraine. Maggie asks Beverly to help her against Whiteside and Lorraine. Banjo (Jimmy Durante) calls Whiteside. Lorraine gets a call in which Beverly imitates the rich man she is pursuing, and she agrees to marry him, sending telegrams. Bert says how he saw Beverly in a phone booth, and Whiteside tells Lorraine that Beverly fooled her. She realizes that Maggie must be responsible and asks Bert to read his play to her. Maggie runs out. Whiteside broadcasts on radio.
The next day Maggie tells Whiteside how selfish he is. Happy Bert says that Lorraine likes his play, and she is going to work on it with him. Whiteside looks at Harriet's old photo. Banjo arrives and embraces nurse Preen. Whiteside tells Banjo that Maggie loves Bert, who is going away with Lorraine. Whiteside wants to remove Lorraine. Preen leaves nursing because of Whiteside. Ernest brings June back and evicts Whiteside, giving him 15 minutes. Richard is brought back too. Lorraine thanks Whiteside for the play. A mummy is brought in. Lorraine gets in the case, and Banjo locks her in. Whiteside threatens Ernest he might expose his sister Harriet as the ax murderer of their parents. Whiteside and Maggie are reunited. Daisy tells Whiteside that Eleanor Roosevelt is on the phone; he slips and is carried back into the house.
This witty comedy satirizes the hypocrisy of a clever
intellectual who selfishly dominates other people.