The movie begins with socialite Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) offering East River’s Sutton Place City Dump #32-dwelling Godfrey Smith (William Powell) $5.00 as Waldorf-Ritz Hotel scavenger hunt’s “forgotten” man. Godfrey pushes Cornelia into ash piles. Boyfriend/broker’s son “Faithful” George (Robert Light) rescues Cornelia. The romantic duo resent Godfrey’s helping Cornelia’s sister Irene’s (Carole Lombard) getting:
- 20 points for Godfrey’s judge-certified (Franklin Pangborn) homelessness, non-criminality, and unshavenness;
- 50 points for homeless/jobless find #1;
- Winner’s silver cup.
Godfrey calls participants “nitwits” for:
- Scavenging undesirables;
- Treasuring desirables.
Irene gives Godfrey money for clothes. She hires Godfrey to buttle. Godfrey is helpful in giving pixie-chasing, Worcestershire-sauced tomato juice to Irene’s hung-over mother Angelica (Alice Brady). He is unhelpful in long-time maid Molly’s (Jean Dixon) pondering the crossword for a three-letter bird with the middle letter “r” (ern, Haliaeetus albicilla). He is unwelcomed by Angelica's husband, Alexander (Eugene Pallette), after Irene kisses Godfrey in the butler's room off the kitchen.
Irene hosts a tea party. Guest Tommy Gray (Alan Mowbray) helps Harvard classmate Godfrey pose as valet husband of a native American and father of five children. Irene heartbrokenly receives millionaire Charlie Van Rumple’s (Grady Sutton) proposal.
Godfrey and Tommy lunch. Godfrey recalls love's heartbreaks. He regrets 10 Parke generations of Bostonian wealth. He wishes his family to continue thinking him a South America-based rubber businessman.
Cornelia blames Godfrey for misplaced pearls. Police find nothing under the mattress where Cornelia hides them. Alexander persuades police to drop investigations by writing a check to the pension fund.
Irene breaks her engagement. She and Cornelia go to Europe. Godfrey and Tommy ideate plans to employ derelicts.
Angelica’s, Carlo’s (Mischa Auer), Cornelia’s and Irene’s extravagances claim 50% of Alexander’s money. The IRS claims 60%. Alexander dreads impoverishment … until Godfrey confesses to collateralizing Cornelia’s pearls for stocks short-marketed in Alexander’s name. Godfrey gives Cornelia her pearls. Cornelia regrets misbehaving. Godfrey resigns as the only butler who leaves the silver intact.
The movie ends with:
- “The Dump” being a nightclub to employ derelicts and entertain the wealthy;
- "The Office” designating Godfrey’s personal/professional space;
- Irene having Clarence (Arthur Singley) stock Godfrey’s headquarters and kitchen with firewood and a week’s groceries;
- Irene planning to replace the bedroom’s “bilious” green wallpaper;
- Tommy sending Mayor Courtney (Reginald Mason) to join Godfrey’s and Irene’s right hands in marriage.