Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a widow with a young girl. Lora is self centered, obsessed with trying to advance her acting career, and neglectful of her daughter, Susie. When Susie get lost, Lora finds Susie under the care of Annie (Juanita Moore). Annie is a black single mother, with a daughter Sarah Jane, who is Susie's age. Lora needs someone to watch Susie, and Annie is homeless with nowhere to go. Lora invites Susie to live with them and serve as nanny and housekeeper.
Sarah's father was white, and Sarah is very light skinned. Sarah tries to pass as white, and rejects her mother. As a young adult, Sarah is beaten by her boyfriend (Troy Donahue) when he learns her mother is black. She is repeatedly fired from jobs, when they discover her black mother.
Sarah runs away. Steve is able to track her down in another city, where she is working as a chorus girl. Annie goes to see her. Sarah tells Annie that all she wants in life is to pass as white, and that Annie is ruining her life. She tells Annie to leave and never contact her again. Annie returns home, and soon dies of a broken heart. Steve notifies Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane returns, and collapses crying on her mother's coffin, "I'm sorry, I do love you" over and over.
In the sub plot, Lora habitually chooses her career over everything else. She has a long time boyfriend, Steve. Lora repeatedly promises Steve and Susie that she will take time off for them. However, she always runs off when another acting job is offered to her. When Lora and Steve decide to marry, Susie (Sandra Dee) is jealous and angry. She angrily tells Lora that all the material goods were no consolation for an absent mother, and being raised by a maid. Susie moves to Denver to be far away from her mother. It is left open, but presumably seeing Sarah Jane's despair at the funeral will lead Susie to reconcile with her mother.
Thanks Joseph C!
Joseph adds, "It is surprising that this movie has been largely forgotten. It had a cast of major stars, and dealt with an explosive subject."