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A number of semi-permanent guests reside at the Hotel Beauregard in the coastal village of Bournemouth, England, including the overly sheltered and plain Sibyl Railton-Bell and her imperious mother Maude, who disdains Sibyl's friendship with the bombastic Major David Angus Pollock. Retired teacher Mr. Fowler suspects that the major's claims of a public school education and daring war exploits may be exaggerated, but he and horse-racing enthusiast Miss Meacham nevertheless accept the major as a regular, longtime solitary guest like themselves. Mrs. Railton-Bell, her friend, the kindly Lady Gladys Matheson, and the other guests note the arrival of wealthy American and former model Anne Shankland. Anne asks hotel proprietress Pat Cooper about another guest, fellow American and writer John Malcolm, revealing that she hopes to surprise him. Near the end of the dinner hour, John arrives from the pub slightly drunk and comes directly into the lounge from the pouring rain, only to be scolded by Pat for disregarding hotel rules. In private, Pat tells John that she is concerned about his drinking. Unknown to the guests, John and Pat have been romantically involved for several years and are secretly engaged. Brushing aside Pat's concerns, John assures her that he loves her and will marry her soon. Hurrying into the dining room, John is stunned to see Anne, his former wife, for the first time in five years. Anne claims that while visiting London she learned from mutual friends of John's personal difficulties and wanted to offer her help. Still bitter over their breakup, John accuses Anne of lying, then taunts her about her failed marriage following their divorce. Anne remains undaunted by John's cruel remarks, revealing that she is engaged again and only wishes John well. Angered by Anne's calm demeanor, John storms away to the pub. Meanwhile, Mrs. Railton-Bell is curious when she discovers the major anxiously looking through the evening newspapers and becomes suspicious when he clumsily tries to detract attention from the tabloid paper he is scanning. Determined to examine the tabloid, Mrs. Railton-Bell sends Sibyl upstairs, then with Gladys' assistance finds an article detailing the recent arrest of the major for indecent behavior at a local movie house. The article further relates that the major's war service was as a lieutenant in charge of a West Indies supply depot. Gladys beseeches Mrs. Railton-Bell to keep the truth from Sibyl, but Mrs. Railton-Bell is determined to have the major thrown out of the hotel and summons the others to meet in the lounge. When Sibyl returns and asks about the impromptu meeting, Mrs. Railton-Bell assures her daughter that her fragile nerves could not withstand the truth, but when Sibyl persists, her mother gives her the newspaper article, which stuns her. With only Mr. Fowler, Gladys and Anne attending the gathering, Mrs. Railton-Bell details her proposal to expel the major. John returns in the middle of the discussion and, spotting Anne, joins the others, only to dismiss the major's misfortunes as embarrassing and petty, but not meriting eviction. Ignoring John's comments, Mrs. Railton-Bell brusquely assumes she has Gladys's support, then presses Mr. Fowler, who reluctantly agrees that the major is not fit to remain. Having overheard the discussion from the library, Miss Meacham offers her opinion that she has no interest in the major or Mrs. Railton-Bell's proposal. When Mrs. Railton-Bell declares a majority consensus, John insists that Sibyl should have a vote, but Sibyl bursts into a hysterical denunciation of the major's behavior and flees. Later, Anne follows John out to the patio and they discuss their marriage difficulties, which culminated in John resorting to physical abuse in frustration over Anne's coldness. After Anne insists that despite their very real problems, she cares for him, John admits he still finds her desirable. Anne convinces John to come to her room, but when they come inside, Pat notifies Anne that she has a phone call. As Anne goes to answer the phone, John attempts to explain to Pat about Anne, after which Pat expresses amazement that John believes Anne's tale of seeking him out only to offer him help. When John insists Anne's intentions are sincere, Pat reminds him that the only outsider who knows of their engagement is John's publisher, to whom Anne is speaking on the phone. Realizing that Anne has known of his involvement with Pat all along, John nevertheless goes to Anne's room later. When Anne turns off the lights and attempts to seduce him, he angrily rejects her and berates her for lying. Anne pleads for John to let her explain her motives for wanting to see him and follows him to the landing, where he shoves her to the floor. Hearing the commotion, Gladys finds Anne on the landing and summons Pat. The next morning, Anne is packed and ready to depart, but awaits John, who did not return to the hotel all night. The major greets Sibyl and begins a war story, but she cuts him off, revealing that all the guests have read the tabloid article. Although mortified, the major tries to answer Sibyl's demand for an explanation, claiming that he has always been timid and fearful of people, especially women. He admits to finding confidence in the military and embellishing his exploits to win respect. When the major suggests that he and Sibyl are very much alike in their fear of life, she is affronted. Worried about what will become of the major, Sybil retreats to the porch in confusion, where she is comforted by Anne. John returns and questions Pat, who assures him that Anne is well, admitting that the two remained up all night talking and that she is now sympathetic to Anne, who revealed that she is not engaged. When John derides Anne as a manipulator, Pat points out that Anne is not the monster John has always claimed, but rather a fearful, lonely woman. After John refuses to admit empathy for Anne, Pat observes that he has been unhappy throughout the years of their acquaintance and should admit that he still loves Anne. When the major arrives to ask for his final bill, Pat tells him that he is welcome to stay on at the hotel. The major replies that he regrets disappointing Sybil and admits that he is a coward about facing the others. At breakfast, John apologizes to Anne, after which she admits that she still loves him and fears a life of loneliness. The major arrives for his last meal and after a strained silence, John greets him, as do Miss Meacham and Mr. Fowler. When Gladys speaks kindly to the major, the disapproving Mrs. Railton-Bell demands that Sibyl leave with her, but Sibyl refuses and after her mother departs, also addresses the major. After John admits to Anne there is little chance for them to succeed together, she notes there is as little chance for them to find happiness apart. Pat then informs the Major that his taxi has arrived, but he dismisses the car, declaring that he will remain.