It is based on the novel La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, popularly known in English as Camille, and also the source of the opera La Traviata. This non-musical adaptation finds Garbo playing Marguerite Gauthier, a high-class courtesan in 1847 Paris. Marguerite is starting to get a little long in the tooth to be a hooker, at least of the high-class variety, and she also has run up a lot of debts due to excessive generosity with her friends. Needing a means of support, she manages to become the kept woman of snooty, ultra-rich Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell).
Inconveniently, she also chooses this moment to fall in love with handsome young Armand Duval (Robert Taylor). Various obstacles interfere with their romance—Marguerite's debts, the disapproval of Armand's father (Lionel Barrymore), and Marguerite's Incurable Cough of Death.
Younger audiences might recognize this as the movie Daddy Warbucks takes Annie out to see in the 1982 film Annie.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: The film ends with Marguerite dying in Armand's arms, as he talks about all the happy times they'll have.
- Downer Ending: Marguerite dies of her illness.
- Duel to the Death: The Baron demands satisfaction after Armand slaps him. Subverted in that the Baron is wounded but doesn't die, although Armand still has to skip town for a few months.
- Exact Words: Marguerite begs off of a meeting with the Baron, and when he asks why, she laughs and says perhaps she's met "the great romance of my life." She actually has, in the person of Armand.
- Grand Staircase Entrance: Marguerite has one, decked out in her finery, on the arm of the Baron. Unfortunately it's rather uncomfortable as Armand is there at the ball.
- Have a Gay Old Time: The opening title card sets the story "In the gay half-world of Paris."
- High-Class Call Girl: Marguerite is the highest of high-class, servicing nobles like the Baron.
- High-Class Glass: Serves as an Establishing Character Moment for Baron de Varville, when he fussily pulls out a monocle to take a closer look at the cancan dancers.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Marguerite, generous to a fault, like when she has to borrow money to buy horses and a coach just so the coach driver will still have a job. Later, she breaks up with Armand solely because the social stigma of being with a former prostitute is ruining his career.
- Incurable Cough of Death: Not hard to guess how the story is going to end, when Marguerite is coughing into her napkin and leaving a party before the end of the first act.
- Mythology Gag: Despite using the common but incorrect English title for this story, the film does have a line of dialogue in which someone calls Marguerite "the lady of the camellias" after she gets a big bouquet.
- Non-Indicative Name: Just one of the many English-language adaptations that call this story "Camille" despite not having anyone named "Camille" in the movie.
- Please Wake Up: In the end as Marguerite dies, Armand sobs into her chest pleading for her to come back.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: Of the sort typical under The Hays Code in which it's hard to figure out what is supposed to have happened. Armand and Marguerite embrace, Armand and Marguerite kiss. Cut to some time later, where they're lounging on a couch with his head on her lap.
- Victorian Novel Disease: Marguerite has the typical case of romantic Victorian tuberculosis that leaves her looking pale and lovely. It's downplayed a little in this case by at least giving Marguerite a raspy whispering voice at the end, instead of belting arias like in La Traviata.