In a rich-boy/poor-girl story (along the lines of "Love Story"), Boston college students Michael Hillyard (Collins) and Nancy McAllister (Quinlan) are in love. While visiting a park overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, they hide a costume jewelry necklace under a large rock, promising that they will love each other as long as it remains undisturbed (which they expect to be forever).
Michael goes to his mother, Marion (Straight), and announces his plans to marry Nancy. Marion thinks Nancy will hurt Michael's career with their family business. Michael, making it clear he will not drop Nancy, storms out of his mother's home. He calls Nancy and makes plans to elope. He asks his best friend Ben Avery (Michael O'Hare) to be best man.
On the way to the ceremony, the three are involved in a horrible car crash. Ben escapes with minor injuries, but Michael is comatose, and Nancy suffers severe facial injuries. While Nancy is still groggy and heavily bandaged, Marion makes a Mephistophelean deal with her: Marion will send Nancy to California and pay for a top plastic surgeon (Luckinbill) to restore her face. The catch is that Nancy must not return to Boston or contact Michael again unless he contacts her, with the implication being that he will decide if he wants the relationship to continue after the trauma of the accident. Believing that Michael will find her once he wakes up, Nancy agrees. However, when Michael comes out of his coma, Marion tells him that Nancy died in the accident.
Time passes. Nancy undergoes a series of successful surgeries to repair her face. Once healed, she changes her name to Marie Adamson and becomes a successful photographer. Michael becomes a successful architect with his family's business, designing multimillion-dollar business skyscrapers. His company takes a contract to design a building in San Francisco. Ben, who also now works for the company, happens into a gallery there where Marie's photographs are being displayed. He approaches Marie. She recognizes him, but he does not recognize her. He tries to talk to her about her doing photographs to be displayed in new buildings being designed. Once she learns of Michael's involvement, she refuses to have anything to do with the project.
Michael sees samples of Marie's work and finds himself inexplicably drawn to it. He begins pursuing Marie to engage her to do the project, unaware that she is actually Nancy. Initially, Marie refuses, but eventually Michael starts to wear her down. Marie asks him about the scar above his eyebrow (from the accident). Michael becomes visibly tense, and stoically dismisses it, saying it was from "a small accident" that he has now forgotten. Marie takes his comments to mean that he has forgotten about her (Nancy). She tells Michael she will have nothing to do with him, leaving him in confusion. She goes to the plastic surgeon who repaired her face (Luckinbill), with whom she is now involved romantically, and tells him she will be finished with her old life after making one last trip to the east coast.
Later that evening, Michael searches for Marie. Eventually he goes to the home of the plastic surgeon. There, he sees a completed painting which Nancy had started during their romance. He finally realizes "Marie" is actually Nancy.
In the climactic scene, Nancy reaches the rock. After a struggle, she dislodges it, only to discover that the necklace is not there. While she tries to understand, Michael appears with the necklace in hand, having gotten there first. They clear the misunderstanding and reunite with a passionate kiss.Kathleen Quinlan as Nancy McAllister/Marie Adamson
Stephen Collins as Michael Hillyard
Beatrice Straight as Marion Hillyard
Laurence Luckinbill as Dr. Peter Gregson
William Prince as George Calloway
Bibi Besch as Dr. Faye Allison
Michael O'Hare as Ben Avary
Paul Ryan as Doctor Fenton
The film features a haunting theme sound composed by David Shire. The theme song lyrics were jointly written by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, and the resulting selection, titled "I'll Never Say Goodbye," was performed by Melissa Manchester. The song was nominated for an Oscar in 1979, resulting in Melissa Manchester becoming the first artist to have two movie themes songs "Through The Eyes Of Love" (from Ice Castles) and "I'll Never Say Goodbye" (from The Promise) to be nominated for Best Original Song in the same year at the Academy Awards. The Oscar for Best Original Song went to David Shire (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics) for the song "It Goes Like It Goes" from the film Norma Rae, performed by Jennifer Warnes.
"I'll Never Say Goodbye" has been covered by several other artists, including a duet by Ogie Alcasid and Regine Velasquez which was released as a single in the Philippines. Filipino singer and actress Sharon Cuneta has also covered the song and has revealed she and her husband fell in love as a result of the song. In 2011, Barbra Streisand covered the song for her thirty-third studio album What Matters Most.