powered by AFI
In 1930, recently widowed Loraine Faulkner boards a bus with her five-year-old daughter Emily Ann and travels to her brother George's house in a provincial Maryland town. There, after renouncing her marriage, her late husband and her little daughter, the self-pitying Loraine whines that she is too attractive and young to be burdened with a child and asks George and his wife Alice Marie to take the little girl. George convinces his sister to stay and rear her child in their shanty town shack. Neglected by her indifferent mother, Emily Ann is a lonely little girl, her only friend a stray cat. Twelve years later, Emily Ann, now a teenager, dreams of finding acceptance and respectability by becoming a movie star. Desperate for attention, Emily uses her sexual allure to win dates. When her latest suitor roughly embraces her, she passively accepts his sexual advances while defiantly declaring that she is going to Hollywood someday. One night, while out with some visiting soldiers, Emily Ann and her escorts find a drunken soldier passed out in the street. When the drunk is identified as John Tower, the son of a silent movie star, Emily Ann, intoxicated by her brush with fame, accompanies the soldiers as they carry the drunk back to his hotel room and insists on staying there until he awakens. The next morning, John, still reeling from the effects of alcohol, morosely rambles about his meaningless life and estrangement from his famous, insensitive father. The two begin dating, but when Emily Ann gushes that she wants to marry John and take care of him, John warns her that he destroys everything that means anything to him. Nevertheless, the couple are married, and soon after, John stumbles into the house drunk, announcing that he is being sent into combat and hopes to be killed. After John's departure, Emily Ann gives birth to a daughter, but stills dreams of being a movie star. Unable to quiet the squalling infant one day, Emily Ann becomes hysterical and tells her mother that she does not want the baby, the same words uttered by her own mother years earlier. Five years later, Emily Ann, who has changed her name to Rita Shaw, is a starlet in Hollywood. When Dutch Seymour, a boxing champion who has found his life pointless since retiring from the ring, proposes to Emily Ann, she accepts because their union would give her career a boost. After they are married, Dutch suggests moving back to his hometown of St. Louis, where he could join the family business. Although Emily Ann at first agrees, she becomes overwrought at dinner, and still craving fame and recognition, insists on staying in Hollywood to pursue her career. Gradually, the couple becomes estranged, and as Dutch flounders aimlessly, Emily Ann's overt sexuality wins her some small acting parts and attracts the attention of director Lester Brackman and studio vice president R. M. Lucas. After returning home from a party on the set one night, Emily Ann passionately reaches for Dutch and agrees to go St. Louis with him. The next morning, however, she changes her mind and meets with Brackman and Lucas. While leering at Emily Ann, Lucas offers her a contract, then invites her to his house that night to "discuss the terms." Several years later, Emily Ann, now a bona fide movie star, suffers a nervous breakdown and is visited by her mother, who has become a devout Seventh Day Adventist. Emily Ann proudly introduces her mother to her "best friends," producer Joe Woolsy and his wife Sally, but after Emily Ann steps out of the room, Joe informs Mrs. Faulkner that he barely knows her daughter and advises putting Emily Ann under psychiatric care. Emily Ann, terrified of being alone in her big, empty house, chatters nervously to her mother about her wealth and fame. Unimpressed, her mother, a stern woman of few words, responds with some religious homilies and advises her to open her heart to the Lord. After desperately embracing her mother, Emily Ann proclaims that she has "received the spirit." A few days later, Emily Ann, her long blonde hair now restrained in a prim bun, tells Joe that she has found God and is ready to return to work. Two months later, Loraine decides to return home, prompting Emily Ann to revert to her neurotic, unstable life. Several years later, Emily Ann returns home to attend her mother's funeral and is accompanied by Miss Hayward, who acts as her nurse and secretary. At the cemetery, Emily Ann sees John standing with their daughter, whom he has reared. After staring at the girl, Emily Ann walks to her mother's grave and drunkenly shrieks that she wants to die. Later, John visits Emily Ann at her mother's house and is met by Miss Hayward, who refuses to let him see her. When John explains that he has come to take Emily Ann to meet their daughter, the one person who brought happiness into his life, Miss Hayward relents and allows John to go upstairs to Emily Ann's bedroom. Upon seeing John, Emily Ann confides that her life is empty despite her achievements. When John tells her that their daughter has taught him what love is and can give Emily Ann a reason to live, Emily Ann becomes hysterical. Miss Hayward rushes into the room, and after retrieving a bottle of sleeping pills that Emily Ann has hidden under her mattress, tells him that a psychiatrist has diagnosed Emily Ann's case as hopeless, but reassures John that she will take good care of her. After saying goodbye, John runs to meet his daughter and the two walk off, arm and arm.