A poor woman goes to the city and ruthlessly uses her charms with men to gain wealth at their expense.
Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) serves drinks in the speakeasy of her father (Robert Barrat), who leaves her alone with Ed. She pours coffee on him and fights him off; but Ed tells her father he's going to the police. In a fire her father dies, and Lily with Chico (Theresa Harris) goes to the city. Lily goes to a private room with a young man to get a hearing in the personnel office. Soon Jimmy McCoy (John Wayne) is urging his boss Brody (Douglass Dumbrille) to give Lily a position. Lily puts off McCoy and gets Brody to hire her. Stevens (Donald Cook) fires Brody and Lily, but she persuades him to make her his receptionist. Brody goes to see Lily, but she won't see him. Lily drinks with Stevens, and he kisses her. At the office Lily embraces Stevens as his fiancé Ann Carter (Margaret Lindsay) comes in. Ann goes and cries on the shoulder of her father Carter (Henry Kolker), who tells Stevens to let the girl go. Stevens tells Lily she is fired; but she kisses him and says she won't see him if she is. Carter gives Stevens some time off. Carter tells Lily that Stevens is engaged; she pretends not to know and pleads she loves Stevens. Carter has dinner with Lily, who suggests he give her money. Stevens learns Lily has moved. Lily and Chico wear furs. Lily gets a letter advising her to change her life. Stevens calls on Lily, who says she won't see him anymore. Carter asks Stevens what is wrong, and he says it is Lily. Stevens barges in on Lily and says he'll kill himself is she won't marry him. Stevens finds Carter. Shots are heard, and Lily finds them both dead. Papers report the murder-suicide.
Trenholm (George Brent) takes over the bank, and Lily is called before the board, which wants to match the $15,000 newspapers have offered her for her story; but Trenholm says they will send her to Paris to work there. In Paris Lily works in the bank, and Trenholm gives her a ride in his car. He takes her dining and dancing and says he loves her. Newspapers report their wedding. Bank officers call Trenholm back and blame him for the bank failure. Lily looks at her jewels and money. Trenholm comes in and says he was indicted and needs her money he gave her. Lily says no and tells Chico to pack for a trip. Lily thinks of Trenholm, gets off the boat, and goes back to find that he shot himself. She cries and says she will give him everything. In the final scene, which the censors made the studio add, the board says how Lily gave the money to save the bank, and she and Trenholm went back to work in her old factory town.
This powerful story of a ruthless woman, who used her sexual power to manipulate men and gain wealth stimulated censors to become more active. Yet the dramatic consequences of what happens to the men in her life reveal to an understanding audience how terrible are her actions even without the phony ending.