Manhattan, 1922. Millie Dillmount steps off the train from Salina, Kansas. Surrounded by a throng of fabulous flappers, Millie's a fish out of water, until she bobs her hair and sheds her Sunday best for a higher hemline and a hotter look. As she walks along the street Millie is mugged. She seeks help from Jimmy Smith, but all he provides is unsolicited advice for her to make a U-turn and return home. A week passes, and we're at the Hotel Priscilla, where a bevy of stagestruck hopefuls are starting their day. Enter Miss Dorothy, and she and Millie quickly prove that opposites attract.
Meanwhile, in the laundry room, Mrs. Meers, the owner of the hotel, plots to kidnap Miss Dorothy. Why? Mrs. Meers runs a white slavery ring, targeting orphans whose sudden disappearance goes unnoticed, and Miss Dorothy fits the bill. Mrs. Meers barks instructions at her immigrant henchmen, Ching Ho and Bun Foo. The two brothers quarrel over Ching Ho's crisis of conscience, but Bun Foo reminds him that crime is the only career that pays well enough for them to bring their mother over from Hong Kong.
Later that afternoon, Millie begins her job hunt, or rather husband hunt: Millie's "modern" plan is to find work as a stenographer to an eligible bachelor and wind up his wife. On her list of potential bosses/hubbies is Trevor Graydon III at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company.
Back at the hotel, Mrs. Meers tries to dope Miss Dorothy with a poisoned apple, but is repeatedly interrupted. Millie takes the Priscilla girls out on the town to celebrate her new job, and she runs into Jimmy Smith. He gets them into a speakeasy, and though Millie is initially standoffish, they eventually join in a dance. By the time they are raided and land in jail, Jimmy reconsiders his assessment of Millie. Jimmy asks Millie to a Yankees game, but she reveals her plan to marry her boss. Saving face, Jimmy pretends that his interest is platonic, suggesting that she bring Miss Dorothy along. A trio is formed for nightly excursions to Coney Island, Central Park and the glamorous penthouse of Muzzy Van Hossmere, Manhattan's most celebrated chanteuse.
Later that night, on Muzzy's terrace, Jimmy needles Millie about her plan to marry a man who thinks of her as "a typewriter on legs." Their quarrel escalates until, unable to control himself, Jimmy kisses Millie passionately. He exits in a panic, leaving her alone to sort out her feelings. She returns to the Hotel Priscilla in a state of bliss, which is quickly shattered when she sees Jimmy sneaking out of Miss Dorothy's room after what appears to be a late-night tryst.
The next morning, Millie is miserable . She wills herself into wasting no more time on Jimmy Smith. Instead, she redoubles her efforts to seduce Mr. Graydon, until Miss Dorothy drops by and she and Mr Graydon are immediately smitten. Jimmy appears on the window ledge outside of Millie's office, where he declares his feelings for her. Millie, too, is falling in love, as are Mr. Graydon, Miss Dorothy and Ching Ho, whose heart has belonged to Miss Dorothy since the moment they met. Meanwhile, Mrs. Meers is more determined than ever to get Miss Dorothy. Ching Ho tries to stop her, but she reminds him of her promise to import their elderly, ailing mother in exchange for their evil-doings.
Millie and Jimmy go to Caf? Society to hear Muzzy sing but they can't pay the bill so they are put on dishwashing duty. Millie realises that the unemployed Jimmy is as far from her plan to marry well as a girl can get, so she flees the kitchen and heads to Muzzy's dressing room for some sound advice. Muzzy explains that though she herself married a multi-millionaire, she had no idea he was rich until after their engagement, when a green glass brooch he gave her turned out to be emeralds. Muzzy leaves Millie alone in the dressing room to mull over her advice.
Mr. Graydon shows up at Caf? Society in a drunken stupor: Miss Dorothy has checked out of the Hotel Priscilla with no forwarding address. Putting their heads together, Millie, Jimmy and Mr. Graydon realise that Mrs. Meers must be running a white slavery ring. They persuade Muzzy into checking in as a new-orphan-in-town. Mrs. Meers takes the bait and is exposed as the mastermind criminal she is.
With Mrs. Meers out of the way, Miss Dorothy is revealed in Ching Ho's arms: he rescued her from an unspeakable fate and won her heart into the bargain. Jimmy proposes to Millie, and, poor as he is, she accepts, "because if it's marriage I've got in mind, love has everything to do with it." Jimmy reveals himself to be Herbert J. Van Hossmere III ? Muzzy's stepson, Miss Dorothy's brother and one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. The two couples kiss as a throng of fabulous flappers appears. Through them walks another girl from nowhere, ready to take her chances in the never-ending tale that is New York City.
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