It is a loose adaptation of the narrative poem Enoch Arden. The story opens on Armistice Day, 1918. Elizabeth MacDonald (Colbert) works for industrial magnate Lawrence Hamilton (Brent). Her husband, John MacDonald (Welles), left for France a few months before. As the town giddily celebrates the end of the war, Elizabeth gets the dreaded telegram: her husband was killed in combat on November 5. Elizabeth makes her unsteady way back to work, only to faint on the stairs. It turns out that not only is she a widow, she's a pregnant widow.
Lawrence, who is a kindly man, takes Elizabeth into his household and helps her through her pregnancy and childbirth. Unsurprisingly he falls in love with her. They get married, and choose to let Elizabeth's son Drew think that Lawrence is her father. They have another son. Twenty years pass.
What Elizabeth doesn't know is that John isn't really dead. He winds up in an Austrian hospital, horribly scarred, with no ID on him. John, who doesn't want to come back to Elizabeth in that condition, refuses to reveal his identity. Eventually he assumes the name of "Erik Kessler" and becomes a chemist. When the Nazis take over Austria Erik gets out, fleeing to America, where he gets a job...with Lawrence's company.
Eight-year-old Natalie Wood appears as Margaret, Erik's Austrian adopted daughter. It was her first credited film role.
- Accidental Adultery: She thought her husband was dead!
- Calling Parents by Their Name: Elizabeth's sons call her "Liz", although it's friendly needling rather than a true lack of respect.Liz: Don't call me Liz!
- Coincidental Broadcast: Everybody's talking about the impending war in Europe. Somebody turns on the radio. They don't hear a soap commercial or music or the baseball scores, nope, they hear a news bulletin about the impending war in Europe.
- Flashback: Right after Elizabeth gets the telegram that John was killed, she has a flashback to the scene where he shows her his Army uniform.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Erik enjoys seeing "all the gay young people" at the party.
- Heartwarming Orphan: Margaret, Erik's adopted daughter. He didn't formally adopt her—she was the daughter of his doctor friend, and after the doctor and his wife were murdered by the Nazis, Erik claimed her as his.
- Informed Deformity: When we see John in the hospital, his face is swathed in bandages, except for a hole for one eye. John and the doctor talk at length about how John doesn't have a face. John decides to not reveal his identity because he doesn't want his wife to have to take him back out of pity. When we see "Erik" after the 20-year Time Skip he looks just the same, except he had a beard and some more wrinkles, and he has a limp. (He actually looks just like Orson Welles really did 20-odd years after this movie.)
- Legally Dead: It's not really explained how John lost his dog tags, but apparently they were found on the battlefield.
- Misplaced-Names Poster: a great example, as seen above. That's not Claudette Colbert on the left.
- New Child Left Behind: John knocks up Elizabeth sometime before he's shipped out to France.
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Inverted, in that "Erik" refuses to admit who he really is, even after Elizabeth figures it out and confronts him.
- Technicolor Science: Whatever research Erik is doing for Larence's corporation involves a lot of large flasks with colored liquids.
- Time Skip: A 20-year skip after Lawrence asks Elizabeth to marry him, to Erik and Margaret coming to America as war is about to break out again in Europe.
- Title Drop: When urging Elizabeth to look to the future in her life and not dwell on the past, Erik says "We must live for tomorrow, because tomorrow is forever."