Cast & Crew
Since her father's death, Nancy Courtney and her mother, once wealthy socialites, have had to struggle for every penny while maintaining a veneer of prosperity. Although Nancy is in love with writer DeWitt Taylor, her mother urges her to marry wealthy stockbroker Norman Cravath, who is in love with her. Subsequently, Nancy breaks up with DeWitt, imploring him never to alter his indifference to money. Already exhausted by the constant war between money and love, Nancy marries Norman, but despite the fact that he does everything to please her, she is miserable. In the meantime, DeWitt has taken up with Norman's discarded girl friend, Germaine Prentiss, who has been a long-time rival of Nancy. At a dinner party, Nancy notices that DeWitt has indeed changed, now playing the social games she deplores. Nancy works up the courage to tell Norman she is leaving him, unaware that his firm has just been barred from the stockmarket and he has lost everything. Norman throws her out, angry at her selfishness. Nancy rushes to DeWitt's apartment, only to find Germaine there. Crushed, she goes to a nightclub, where she reads of Norman's bankruptcy in a paper and meets up with her kindly friend, Ben Sterner. Nancy and Ben go to a working class bar, where she gets drunk and brings the patrons to Ben's home to continue the party. Norman is there waiting to discuss a business transaction with Ben and vows that he never wants to see Nancy again. Nancy disappears and lives on her own, trying to prove to herself that she can work for her money. Lacking job skills, however, she is unable to find work and becomes completely destitute. One day she runs into Ben and collapses, later discovering that she is pregnant. Ben takes her in and, after the birth of her child, hires her at his department store. There Norman and Germaine come in to buy a fur coat, and Norman, unaware that he has a son, is shocked to find Nancy in a menial position. Germaine warns Nancy not to interfere with her happiness, but Nancy realizes Norman still loves her and goes to him, asking for one more chance. Germaine bows out and Norman happily discovers he has a son and a loving wife.
Donald Ogden Stewart's story was called "A Story of a New York Lady." The pre-release title of the film was New York Lady. This film marks George Cukor's solo directorial debut, and was Tallulah Bankhead's first American sound film. Paramount's film Her Past, was originally to be Bankhead's American debut, but Tarnished Lady was chosen instead. The plot synopsis in the copyright records has a slightly different ending from the film. In the synopsis, Nancy goes to Norman's apartment, where Germaine unsuccessfully attempts to prevent the reunion, instead of the department store. Copyright records also indicate that Donald Ogden Stewart's wife Beatrice Ames, appears in the film. In her autobiography, Miss Bankhead states that she was paid $50,000 for the ten-week shooting schedule. Modern sources note that Tamara Geva was also considered for the role of Nancy Courtney. Although modern sources credit this as Donald Ogden Stewart's screenwriting debut, he contributed to various screenplays and dialogue scripts prior to this film.