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Letty Strong, a hard-boiled woman, makes a living modeling dresses and entertaining male buyers who come to New York to purchase dresses for their stores. She raises her unruly, illegitimate seven-year-old son Mickey according to the principle of "survival of the fittest" and without regard to conventional morality, because she wants him to grow up strong, so that no one can put anything over on him like what happened to her when, at age fifteen, she was left pregnant and alone. When a milk truck driven by Malcolm Trevor, the president of the company, hits Mickey, Letty sues Malcolm. However, Malcolm's lawyer presents motion picture evidence that proves her case is built on lies that she made the boy relate. The outraged judge orders Mickey to be taken away from Letty. After she pleads with Malcolm, he intercedes with the judge and, because he and his wife Alyce are childless, arranges to adopt Mickey himself. At Letty's urging, Mickey tries to run away from the Trevor estate, and he takes some of Alyce's expensive toilet articles for Letty, but a guard at the entrance catches him. Instead of reprimanding Mickey, Malcolm and Alyce tell him that everything they own is his and make him promise never to run away again. Upset that her son is being won over by the Trevors, Letty tries to take him back, but she is caught and then invited to stay with the Trevors for a few days. Her unscrupulous lawyer schemes to have her seduce Malcolm and record his professions of desire with a hidden apparatus. Although Malcolm at first angrily rebuffs her, calling her a "bad" woman, he finally succumbs and makes love with her one evening. The next day, he tells Letty that he has confessed their affair to his wife and, professing that he loves Letty, offers to divorce Alyce. Letty tries to take Mickey away, but he runs from her to Alyce, who, as Mickey swims in the pool, warns Letty that almost any woman can get almost any man Letty's way, but that it won't last. Alyce then rescues Mickey from drowning. Afterward, as Letty thanks her, Alyce says that what Malcolm wants from Letty is a son, which she, Alyce, cannot give him, and what she is going through now is not too much to bear so that Malcolm will be happy. Moved by Alyce's love for her husband, Letty, who now also loves Malcolm, tells Mickey that she realizes she has been wrong about life and leaves after a tearful goodbye. Hiding her true feelings, she tells Malcolm that yes, she is a bad woman, and that she likes it that way. She then visits Fuzzy, the kindly bookseller who took her in when she was pregnant with Mickey, and asks for her old job back. When she sees Mickey's cradle, which Fuzzy now uses to hold books, Letty cries.