powered by AFI
In New York City in 1920, perpetually drunken reporter Robert "Duke" Allen returns home after quitting his job to discover that his wife Clara is leaving him and taking their one-year-old son David. Clara tells Duke that she still loves him, but that he has wasted his talent. Clara is anxious for David to have a good life, and she later marries James K. Paulding, a successful lawyer who adopts David and provides well for his family. Years later, David celebrates his twentieth birthday with Jim and Clara, Jim's employer, influential businessman R. J. Bennett, and Bennett's daughter Lillian, who is also David's girl friend. Soon after, David goes to Stafford University, which was Duke and Clara's alma mater, where he meets Tom Sortwell, a working lad who is putting himself through college. Despite snobbish comments by Bennett's son Lester, David beomes friends with Sortwell and also with Professor Daniels and his tomboy daughter Simpson. Daniels was Duke's English professor as well, and he gives David one of Duke's stories to read. Inspired by Duke's brilliant writing and encouraged by Simpson, David contacts his father in Boston, and is only slightly disillusioned by Duke's drunken, shabby condition. Duke is ashamed by his appearance but is proud of what a fine young man David has become. Determined to become worthy of his son, Duke goes to his former managing editor, Phillip Deane, to ask for a job. Deane reluctantly agrees to give Duke a chance, and as time passes, Duke makes good. Duke and David's relationship progresses as well, and father and son become fast friends. On the night of the Stafford prom, David is smitten by Simpson's lovely appearance, but the night ends unpleasantly when Lester gets Sortwell drunk as a cruel joke. Lester is also drunk, and much to David's dismay, insists on driving when they return home. Lester runs over an old woman, and despite David's insistence that he stop, Lester speeds away. Sortwell, who was driving slowly behind, hits a lamp post by the woman's body, and is arrested for the crime. Bennett, Jim and Clara pressure David to maintain silence and let Sortwell be convicted of the crime, but David cannot do so and, disgusted by their selfishness, resolves to go to Duke for good. After Bennett tells Lester to turn himself in to the police, Clara calls Duke and persuades him that David's future will be ruined if he allows the boy to stay with him. When David arrives at Duke's apartment, Duke convinces him that he has been paid off by Jim to go to South America, and David is crushed. After bidding farewell to Sortwell, who has been freed, David also says goodbye to Daniels and Simpson and tells them he will write to them from England, where he is going with Clara and Jim. As David's bags are being taken away, however, Clara confesses that she realizes how much Duke means to him and that he belongs with his father. She tells David that Duke, now the night editor, is still in town, and David rushes to the newspaper office, where his delighted father greets him.