Based on a novel by Henry James and a play by Augustus and Ruth Goetz, a wealthy doctor tries to keep his mediocre daughter from marrying a handsome fortune-hunter.
In the 1840s Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) attends a party with her father Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) and her widowed aunt Lavinia Penniman (Miriam Hopkins). Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) meets Catherine and dances with her. Morris courts her. She is shy, and he sings to her. Dr. Sloper invites Morris to dinner. Morris says he has been tutoring children. He tells Catherine that her father does not like him. Dr. Sloper suspects that Morris wants her fortune.
Morris kisses Catherine and asks her to marry. She loves him and says yes. She waits up for her father and tells him. He says that Morris should plead for her, not she for him. The next day Dr. Sloper asks Mrs. Montgomery about her brother Morris, who spent his inheritance touring Europe. Dr. Sloper says he may disinherit Catherine. He questions Morris and says he is unsuitable because he is poor and has no profession. Morris says he has no debts, but Dr. Sloper rejects him. Catherine says that she will marry him anyway. Morris wants the permission of her father, who asks for six months to take her to Europe.
At the boat Morris says goodbye and gives her a hand-warmer. Morris spends time with Lavinia. In Paris, Catherine tells her father she has not yielded. They go back. Morris has a plan with Lavinia. Dr. Sloper finds traces of Morris, and he tells Catherine that he only wants her money. Catherine sees Morris outside and runs to him. He says he will wed her the next day, but she wants to leave that night. She says her father despises her, and they must not expect anything from him; she will accept nothing. Catherine tells Lavinia, who offers to go with her. Catherine says she will not see her father again. She waits, and Lavinia says she should not have told Morris that. Catherine has $10,000 a year, but Lavinia says Morris expected $30,000. Catherine sadly goes back to her room.
In the morning Dr. Sloper checks his own heart. Catherine tells Lavinia that Mrs. Montgomery said that Morris left for California. Dr. Sloper tells Catherine and the maid Maria (Vanessa Brown) that he is fatally ill. Catherine tells him that she is not leaving because Morris deserted her. She says her father does not love her.
Catherine refuses to see her father. After his death Lavinia tells Catherine that she saw Morris. Catherine refuses to see him; but she hears his voice and invites him in. He tries to explain he left her for her sake, and he asks forgiveness. She agrees to marry him. He tells Lavinia and will come back. Catherine tells Lavinia that he is greedier now, wanting her love too. When he comes back, Catherine has Maria bolt the door. Catherine goes to her room as he calls her name outside.
This superbly acted drama explores the problems caused
by two men who expect the marriage partner to have a certain amount
of money or secure prospects. The woman, though already moderately
wealthy on her own, is psychologically devastated by this conflict
and comes to realize that neither man loves her.