powered by AFI
In New England, in July 1889, Kate Fernald, the daughter of the Fortune family's housekeeper, recalls the day that the clipper ship Rainbow brought Christopher Fortune home from his first voyage: Although the Fortunes have always been sailing men, young Chris was born without a trace of salt water in his blood, thus bringing great disappointment to his stern father, Captain Fortune. Chris returns in a coma after suffering an accident aboard ship, but his father refuses to acknowledge his son's grave condition and insists on holding the traditional party to welcome a returning ship. Her father's decision infuriates Clarissa "Rissa" Fortune, Chris' overly devoted sister. As soon as he regains consciousness, Chris, an aspiring composer, is drawn to his beloved piano. Although Chris yearns to study music in Paris, his rigid father insists he return to sea at the end of the month. Rissa accuses her father of destroying her mother with his iron will and begs him to allow Chris to go to Paris, but he refuses. Rissa then travels to Boston to ask her aunt Melinda for the money to fund Chris's Paris studies. After Rissa leaves, Chris tells Kate that he likens sailing to death. Later, Rissa returns home from Boston empty-handed. On the eve before the sailing of the Rainbow , Melinda comes to the Fortune home to celebrate Thanksgiving and is accompanied by Dora Drake, the daughter of a wealthy Boston businessman. Kate, meanwhile, pleads with Jake Bullard, a supercilious fisherman, to lend Chris $2,000 to go to Paris. Jake, who holds Chris in contempt for foresaking the sea, at first refuses, but later relents and gives Chris the money while taunting him for hiding behind a woman's skirts. At dinner that night, the captain becomes infuriated when he learns that Rissa tried to borrow money from Melinda by using the pretense that the family needed funds to pay their insurance costs. At Kate's urging, Rissa and Chris leave immediately for Paris without informing their father. When the captain discovers what has transpired, he accuses Kate of betrayal. Three long years pass in which the captain withers in silence, even burning his children's letters. As he languishes near death, the captain receives a telegraph notifying him of the wreck of the Rainbow . With nothing left to live for, he perishes, alone. The following winter, Rissa and Chris return home and Kate is shattered when she learns that Chris has married Dora. The spoiled Dora treats Kate like a servant and later has her rich father rent a concert hall for the New York debut of Chris's new composition. Chris, who believes he has not lived up to his potential, admits to Kate that his concert is simply a rehash of one of Debussy's pieces. Feeling that he has become the pampered puppet of a rich man's daughter, Chris drowns his disappointments in alcohol. On the night of his debut, Chris gets drunk, pounds out nursery rhymes on the piano and then struts off stage, leaving the audience thunderstruck. When music reviewer Max Lieberman savages Chris's conduct, Dora, humiliated, callously announces that she is leaving her husband. Some time later, a drunken Chris seeks refuge at the Fortune house, where a solitary Kate is taking inventory of household items for auction. Upon learning that Kate has been buying large amounts of alcohol, Jake comes to the house. When he witnesses a drunken Chris slap and push Kate, Jake slugs Chris. After Jake leaves, Kate expresses her love for Chris and her abiding faith in his talent. Later that night, Chris, inspired by the ocean waves pounding against the rocks, tentatively begins to play the piano. Slowly regaining his confidence, Chris stops drinking and completes a new piece, the New England Symphony . With the help of Max's driver Mike, Kate plants Chris's new composition in Max's carriage. Recognizing the quality of the work, Max arranges for a performance at the concert hall. One day, Rissa appears at the house, jealously accuses Kate of trying to isolate Chris and then storms out. On the night of his symphony's debut, Chris declares his love for Kate and slips a ring on her finger. Having spotted Dora and Rissa seated in a box in the concert hall, Max warns Kate that Dora has employed some thugs to disrupt the concert. As Chris conducts his moving composition, Kate proceeds to the box and prevents Dora from signaling for the disruption. After Dora retreats, Rissa and Kate join hands to the strains of Chris's music.