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As socialite Tracy Lord prepares for her wedding to priggish George Kittredge at her Newport, Rhode Island estate, her ex-husband, millionaire song writer C. K. Dexter-Haven, organizes a jazz festival for the same weekend, using his neighboring home as a rehearsal hall. On the eve of her wedding, Tracy informs her precocious kid sister Caroline that she has not invited their father, Seth Lord, because he has left their mother for a chorus girl. Soon after, when Tracy hears Dexter play her and Dexter's favorite tune, she runs to Dexter's and accuses him of setting up the festival to disrupt her wedding. Dexter confesses he is still in love with her, but reminds Tracy that she left him because her expectations for him differed from his own. Tracy retorts that instead of becoming a respected composer, Dexter has lowered himself to being a "jukebox hero," and leaves. Back at the Lords', Uncle Willie calls to tell Tracy's mother, Mrs. Lord, that Spy magazine will withhold a slanderous article about Seth's affair in exchange for being allowed to send reporter Mike Connor and photographer Liz Imbrie to cover Tracy's high-society wedding. To appease her mother who fears for the family's reputation, Tracy agrees to the blackmail, but she and Caroline greet Mike and Liz, who arrive shortly after, with exaggeratedly gauche mannerisms and interrogate them about their lives, while avoiding any questions about their father. Soon after, George and Dexter arrive at the Lord house, prompting Liz to request a photograph of Tracy standing between her past and future husbands. Tracy reluctantly agrees, but later intentionally knocks the camera over, ruining the film. Tired of the reporter's constant badgering about her father, Tracy introduces her Uncle Willie as "papa" when he arrives at the house. The family goes along with the lie and when Seth arrives, they call him "Uncle Willie." Later, as they peruse tables filled with extravagant, impractical wedding gifts, Mike and Liz confide that they would rather have true happiness than be married into a wealthy, but obviously disfunctional family. Later at the pool, Dexter suggests to Tracy that she soften her expectations of George to ensure a happy union and notes that she has little tolerance for "human frailty." Later alone, Tracy unwraps Dexter's wedding gift, the model of their honeymoon yacht, and fondly remembers the first few romantic weeks of her and Dexter's marriage. Suddenly, George interrupts her reverie to promise unfailing adoration of his "goddess." Upset that she might be seen as distant, Tracy demands that she be treated as a real woman. When Tracy later confronts her father about his affair, Seth supposes that his philandering is an attempt to maintain his youth and suggests that Tracy is partially to blame for refusing to show him any affection. Distraught by the day's events, a drunken Tracy takes Mike on a drive to tell him that his presumptions about the Newport upper class are unfair. As they stop at Uncle Willie's house for a drink, Tracy admits she has been sheltered by wealth, while an enamored Mike insists that Tracy needs only the right man to "fire her heart." Although her inhibitions are diminished by alcohol, Tracy flees the room when Mike tries to embrace her. After returning to the house, Tracy overhears Dexter sing a love song for his "Samantha," her nickname, rekindling her attraction to him. Later at the bachelor ball held at Willie's house, Dexter, Louis Armstrong and his band entertain the crowd with jazz, while George insists that Tracy sleep off her drunkenness alone in a parlor. Meanwhile, Mike wanders into a study, where he shares glass after glass of champagne with Dexter until the men break into song about the "swell party," mocking the haughty crowd. Later, Tracy climbs out the parlor window and joins Mike on a walk back to the Lords' house, where Mike tells her that she is a "flesh and blood" woman. After embracing him, Tracy jumps into the pool, fully clothed and swooning at the compliment. While escorting Liz back to the Lords' house, Dexter asks her why she and Mike have not married, prompting the patient Liz to reply that Mike must first outgrow his love for Tracy. Meanwhile, George, having discovered Tracy missing, rushes to the Lords' house, where he, Dexter and Liz witness a woozy Mike carrying Tracy back from the pool, both soaking from a swim. Horrified by what he assumes is a case of infidelity, George prepares to take a swing at Mike, but Dexter jumps in and punches him instead, hoping he has saved Mike from a savage blow of the truly jealous groom. The next morning, as dozens of wedding guests arrive, Tracy is so hung over that she has forgotten the previous evening's escapade. When she asks Mike about the night, he tells her only that he enjoyed himself. In a moment alone, a guilt-ridden Tracy asks advice from Dexter, who suggests that a mistake can sometimes help a couple learn. Soon after Mike and Liz announce they are through with dirty journalism and so will not to publish the story, George arrives and proclaims that he is undecided about continuing the wedding. When Tracy cannot provide an explanation for the previous evening, Mike informs the worried groom that the "affair" consisted of only two kisses and a swim, prompting Tracy to accuse Mike of thinking her too "unattractive and distant" to sleep with. After Mike tells her he did not want to take advantage of her drunken state, George, now full of self-righteousness, tells Tracy he can forgive this one mistake. Tracy, realizing the larger mistake is marrying George, tells her fiancé that she "couldn't bear a perfect man." As George marches off and the processional music begins, Tracy, at a loss for words, seeks Dexter's coaching to address the awaiting crowd. As she repeats his phrasing unthinkingly, Tracy parrots that she eloped with Dexter two years ago and then announces she will now marry him in a full ceremony. Tracy turns to Dexter, ecstatic at his off handed proposal, and then thanks her father for helping her become more human. Meanwhile, Mike and Liz, inspired by the turn of events, decide to marry, as a jazzed-up version of the processional begins again.