In the year 1900 or so, the wealthy Judge Foster disowns his daughter when she marries a man from the circus. Five years later, the young couple is dead, leaving behind a daughter of their own, Sally. Just a toddler at this point, Sally is left in the care of Professor McGargle, a circus conman.
Fast-forward to the contemporary 1920s, and Sally is now a young woman. Raised in the circus, she believes that McGargle is her real father. A handsome young man named Peyton Lennox falls for the free-spirited Sally. However, his father is friends with Judge Foster, who is naturally outraged that Peyton is cavorting with a disreputable circus girl. Of course, Judge Foster has no idea that Sally is his own granddaughter.
The film was based on the Dorothy Donnelly play Poppy, which would receive a second film adaptation in 1936. Incidentally, Fields originated the role of McGargle on stage and would later reprise it for the 1936 film version.
This film has the examples of:
- Adaptation Name Change: In accordance with the title change, the heroine is named Sally instead of Poppy.
- Adaptation Title Change: As noted above, the original play was called Poppy. They changed the title for the movie because there was an earlier unrelated film called Poppy in 1917. The 1936 version reverts to the original Poppy title.
- Attempted Rape: A man comes into Sally's tent and tries to have his way with her, but McGargle shows up and rescues her.
- Circus Brat: Sally is raised in the circus.
- Distressed Dude: Sally rescues McGargle after he's accidentally locked in an oven.
- The Edwardian Era: The prologue takes place here, as indicated by the fashions the characters are wearing. The rest of the movie is set in the contemporary 1920s.
- Hero Stole My Bike: McGargle steals a car while racing to Sally's trial.
- Land Poor: In the prologue, the Fosters are, "rich in acres but poor in cash." By the time of the main story, their fortunes have improved due to a real estate boom.
- Long-Lost Relative: Sally is Judge Foster's long-lost granddaughter, of course.
- Parental Substitute: McGargle fills the role of Sally's father. In fact, she spends most of the film not knowing that he isn't her real father.
- Setting Update: The original play took place in 1874, but this film moves the main story into the contemporary 1920s. The 1936 version would restore the nineteenth-century setting.
- Stern Old Judge: When Sally ends up in court, this is unsurprisingly the type of judge that Judge Foster turns out to be.
- Tomboy with a Girly Streak: An intertitle tells us that Sally is, "part tomboy, part woman."
- Uptown Boy: Peyton and Sally's relationship. As an intertitle puts it, "A rich young man — a homeless waif — the eternal bond of youth."
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Sally hides some buns here. When McGargle notices her enhanced bosom, he comments on how much she's growing up.
- The Wicked Stage: This is how Judge Foster feels about, "show people."