In 1927, silent film star George Valentin is posing for pictures outside the premiere of his latest hit film when a young woman, Peppy Miller, accidentally bumps into him. Valentin reacts with humor to the accident and shows off with Peppy for the cameras. The next day, Peppy finds herself on the front page of Variety with the headline “Who’s That Girl?” Later, Peppy capitalizes on the headline by auditioning as a dancer and is spotted by Valentin, who insists that she have a part in Kinograph Studios’ next production, despite objections from the studio boss, Al Zimmer.
While performing a scene in which they dance together, Valentin and Peppy show great chemistry, despite her being merely an extra. With a little guidance from Valentin (he draws a beauty spot on her, which will eventually be her trademark, after finding her in his dressing room), Peppy slowly rises through the industry, earning more prominent starring roles.
Two years later, Zimmer announces the end of production of silent films at Kinograph Studios, but Valentin is dismissive, insisting that sound is just a fad. In a dream, Valentin begins hearing sounds from his environment (as does the audience), but cannot speak himself, then wakes up in a sweat. He decides to produce and direct his own silent film, Tears of Love, financing it himself.
The film opens on the same day as Peppy’s new sound film Beauty Spot, as well as the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Valentin’s only chance of avoiding bankruptcy is for his film to be a hit. Unfortunately audiences flock to Peppy’s film instead, while only a few people (including Peppy herself) attend Valentin’s. With Valentin ruined, his wife, Doris, kicks him out, and he moves into an apartment with his valet/chauffeur, Clifton, and his dog. Peppy goes on to become a major Hollywood star.
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