After two unsuccessful years pursuing an art career in Paris, clubfooted Philip Carey decides to study medicine. He meets and falls in love with Mildred Rogers, a low-class waitress who takes advantage of his feelings for her.
When she leaves him to marry another man, Philip falls in love with Nora Nesbitt, a writer who encourages him to complete his studies. Mildred returns, pregnant and abandoned by her husband, and Philip takes her in and cares for her, ending his relationship with Nora.
While staying with Philip, Mildred has an affair with his best friend Griffiths, and when Philip confronts her, she tells Philip she's repulsed by him and walks out.
He takes the two under his wing, but once again Mildred leaves him. When he finally finds her in a clinic for the indigent, he discovers her child has died and Mildred, in the advanced stages of syphilis, dies in her spurned lover's arms.
- Kim Novak as Mildred Rogers
- Laurence Harvey as Philip Carey
- Robert Morley as Dr. Jacobs
- Siobhán McKenna as Nora Nesbitt
- Roger Livesey as Thorpe Athelny
- Jack Hedley as Griffiths
- Nanette Newman as Sally Athelny
- Ronald Lacey as Matty Mathews
- Also credited are the sculptures of Auguste Rodin that appear behind many scenes.
A.H. Weiler of the New York Times called the film a "surface, stoic old-fashioned tale" and added, "The pitiful meagerness of heartfelt dialogue, direction and acting, so essential in transporting Maugham's three-dimensional figures from book to screen, is noticeable almost from the start of this largely unemotional drama. These are not classically tortured people who emerge whole and alive on film but are, instead, artificially quaint Edwardians who are simply play acting and speaking lines that seem alien to them and the viewer ... Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak ... seem painfully miscast. Mr. Harvey's portrayal is, at best, a succession of basically vacuous, woebegone attitudes. He appears to be more distracted than heartsick or emotionally undone. One wonders what he ever saw, aside from an occasional physical view, in Miss Novak's conception of the ill-fated, blonde Cockney whose East End accent and actions are often a laughable parody of the real articles ... Most of the time, this pallid drama constitutes bondage for a discerning observer."
TV Guide says, "As the doomed pair, Novak and Harvey are passable but little more than that. Harvey looks too old for the role and fails to give his character much life, while Novak, although making a valiant attempt, never conveys enough passion to make her role believable. Further denying any dramatic potential is Forbes' uninspired adaptation of Maugham's novel. Rather than probe the psychological makeup of the characters, the script consistently focuses on superficial motivations with all the emotional intensity of a high-school drama-society production."