An American marries a half-French, half-Vietnamese woman, but a wealthy Oriental tries to win her over with manipulation.
Playboy Bill Carey (Robert Taylor) and heiress Dolly Harrison (Mary Taylor) arrive on a yacht in Saigon and are welcomed by Father Antoine (Ernest Cossart). They meet the rich Pierre Delaroch (Joseph Schildkraut) and half-caste Manon de Vargness (Hedy Lamarr). Pierre wants Manon, but she wants to go to Paris. Manon is denied a passport. Dolly asks for a hat, and Manon helps Bill buy one. Manon tells Pierre she is staying in Saigon but informs Bill and Nina (Gloria Franklin) she is leaving. Bill romances Manon and kisses her good-bye. On the yacht Dolly gets a note that Bill is not going with her. He finds Manon on a river boat. When Manon tells Bill she is marrying a king, he feels like a fool for escorting the bride. Bill arranges to meet her and asks her to marry. Manon tells Nina that she is marrying Bill. Pierre comes in, and Manon says that Bill went away. Pierre asks Manon to marry and insists on an answer; she says yes. Father Antoine tells Bill he does not know half of Manon. Bill and Manon are wed. Pierre complains that Manon lied to him. Bill learns that Manon can't get a passport. Bill sends a letter to an American editor, but he gets several discouraging telegrams, mocking his Asian marriage.
Manon goes to Pierre for help, but he says Bill will leave her. Bill finds Manon selling her dresses. Bill says he won't go and sells his watch. Instead of paying the bill, they leave the hotel. Bill looks for a job, and Manon cooks. Bill gets drunk and passes out at home. Manon tells Bill of a job at the rubber factory. Pierre ordered them to hire Bill; but he has to leave Manon behind for a month. Bill gets a letter from Manon. Pierre asks Manon to go to the opera with him, and he gives her a passport. In the opera Manon Lescaut is forgiven. Manon welcomes Bill back. Bill learns that she went to the opera with Pierre, president of the rubber company. Bill finds Pierre's cigar case and realizes that Manon lied and that he was sent away. Bill tells Manon to go back to Pierre. Manon warns Pierre that Bill will kill him. She says she will save Bill from that and shoots Pierre. Bill hears what happened. Nina sings, hears a shot, and finds Manon dying. Manon sends Nina for Father Antoine. Bill comes to help Manon escape and says he loves her. Bill realizes that Manon is shot. Father Antoine comes in as she dies.
In this romantic tragedy racism against Asians, the
manipulation of a jealous rich man, and the lies of Manon all
contribute to her self-sacrificing death in this modern variation
of the 18th century novel Manon Lescaut. The naïve American
is caught in this web despite his unprejudiced love, symbolizing
the current American isolation from old-world politics.