A multi-millionaire tycoon, John P. Merrick (Coburn), owns a bothersome department store where employees are raising hell for unionization. Realizing hes the only one that can stop them after interviewing a so-so detective, he goes undercover as Thomas Higgins: a lowly store clerk who the store higher-ups know is there to spot the rebellious workers.
Awful at being a clerk, he gets help from and befriends Mary Jones (Arthur), who thinks hes a poor old man down on his luck. Her best friend, Elizabeth (Spring Byington), who also works at the department store, becomes enamoured with Higgins, because she thinks hes a poor helpless man. John believes them to be fine, upright women until he finds out that theyre part of the rebelling unionizers. Marys boyfriend, Joe OBrien (Robert Cummings), the leader of the rebelling workers, invites Higgins to their meeting where, to Johns surprise, hes held as a prime example of the people these workers are trying to help.
John tries to hold them in contempt, but the more he gets to know them, the more he agrees with their ambitious plans for his department store.
Tropes found in this film are as follows:
- Amusement Park: The four friends spend time at Coney Island, and you can see the rides in the background.
- Blatant Lies: John and the chewing gum.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: John wants to make commission in order to keep it his job, and so he gets his personal butler to bring a kid and buy shoes. Although John is no salesman, the girl is a complete brat.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The writer, director, and producer decided it was necessary to put this title card in the beginning of the film: Dear Richest Men in the World: We made up this character in this story, out of our own heads. Its nobody, really. The whole thing is make-believe. Wed feel awful if anybody was offended. Thank you, The Author, Director, and Producer. P.S. Nobody Sue. And then this appears: P.P.S. PLEASE.
- Cassandra Truth: Caught by the police, John tries to tell them that he was pawning his watch so he could make a call to his chauffeur and get home. They dont believe him since he wearing a swimsuit (he couldnt find the bathhouse which he put his clothes and rented this swimming suit from), and has no shoes on. Thinking hes crazy, they almost toss him in jail.
- Didn't Think This Through: Joe protests inside the store and handcuffs himself around some pipes convinced that security will have to cut through them to get him out. But they easily slide the handcuffs up, freeing Joe; the pipe has an end to it, not continuing somewhere else like the others.
- Digging Yourself Deeper: Subverted. It seems at first that Joe is just making things worse for John, but eventually he starts to annoy the officers enough with his recital of the Bill of rights and Declaration of Independence that it causes them to suspend, and eventually drop the charges they were going to press against John.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: John manages to right his wrongs; he ends up outsmarting Mr. Alison and helps the Union Mary formed to achieve its goals, and ends up marrying Elizabeth while on a boat sailing to Hawaii.
- Eat the Evidence: Mary and John eat the list containing the 400 names of supporting employees because Mr. Alison, the store manager, was going to use it against those people right after he said he wouldnt do that.
- Enemies List: John keeps one; its a list of things he finds out about his department store, but quickly turns into a list for firing people. The mean floor manager is the first to be on the list. At first John, puts a question mark if he should fire him, but after screwing him over, he crosses out the question mark. And then, of a secret shopper who gives him hell for chewing gum, leaning on the counter, and not attending to her quickly enough.
- Eye Take: When Mary realizes that Thomas Higgins is an undercover spy for the department store.
- Faint in Shock: Joe, when he finds out that Thomas Higgins is actually John P. Merrick.
- Mean Boss: The floor manager not only belittles John, but steals a commission from him and isnt impressed when Elizabeth takes a liking to him.
- Never Trust a Title: One of the covers for the movie makes it seems like it's referring to Joe as "The Devil", when in truth "the Devil" in question is John.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Joes mustache and hat to steal the employee list from John isnt convincing, and hes arrested by security almost immediately.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: While John Merrick went into this scheme of finding the unionists and breaking their attempt to unionize, he comes to not only sympathize with their plights, he moves to protect them and when they do strike, he keeps his own top executives from calling in the police to break the line. He also has them meet the people to work a fair deal.
- Secretly Wealthy: John is a tycoon, owning a lot of real estate, but goes undercover as an average Joe to route out bad employees who are burning effigys of him (nobody knows what he looks like).
- Right in Front of Me: Mary, Elizabeth, and Joe are the last people that should be hanging out with John since hes trying to destroy their unionization attempts.
- Will They or Won't They?: Averted; whether or not Joe and Mary will get married is in question in the middle of the film, but at the end, they too get married on the same day that John and Elizabeth do.