The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording (Cyril Crowhurst) and was the final one released under the Gainsborough Pictures banner.
The new vicar (Michael Hordern) of St. Peter's Church is astonished to learn that the long-serving verger, Albert Foreman (James Hayter), is illiterate. When Foreman is too set in his ways to want to learn to read, the vicar feels he has no choice but to sack him.
On the way back to his lodgings, Foreman notices that there is not a tobacconist shop in the area. Needing work, he decides to open one. He also takes the opportunity to propose to his landlady, Emma (Kathleen Harrison). Their fledgling business is so successful that when his stepdaughter's husband loses his job, Foreman sets up another shop for them to run. Over the next decade, Foreman starts up more and more shops, becoming a wealthy man in the process and depositing his profits at the bank.
The bank manager (Felix Aylmer) recommends that he invest his sizeable savings to get a better return on his money, causing Foreman to reveal that he could not read the necessary papers. The astonished manager exclaims (rhetorically) "what would you be today if you had been able to?"; Foreman replies that he would be the verger at St. Peter's.
Reserved Mr. Gray (Wilfred Hyde-White) finds himself forced to share a cabin on an ocean liner with the loud, opinionated, supremely self-confident gem dealer Max Kelada (Nigel Patrick). Kelada soon dominates all the onboard social gatherings, much to the annoyance of his fellow passengers, who take to calling him "Mr. Know-All" behind his back because of his insistence that he is an expert on all subjects.
One night, he remarks on the fine quality of the pearl necklace worn by the pretty Mrs. Ramsay (Anne Crawford), who has rejoined her husband (Naunton Wayne) after a two-year separation caused by his work. Mr. Ramsay bets him that the pearls are fake; Kelada swiftly accepts the wager, despite Mrs. Ramsay's attempt to call it off. While examining the pearls, Kelada observes that the woman is very uneasy. He then admits that he was wrong and pays Mr. Ramsay.
Afterwards, back in their cabin, Gray and Kelada are surprised when a banknote is slipped under their door. Gray gets Kelada to tell the truth: the pearls are real and very costly. Kelada adds that he would not have left such an attractive wife alone for that long. Gray begins to warm to his cabinmate.
This segment was based on "Sanatorium", included in the 1947 collection of Maugham stories Creatures of Circumstance.
Writer Mr. Ashenden (Roland Culver) is sent to a sanatorium for his health. While there, he becomes acquainted with the lives and dramas of the residents. Another newcomer is the scandalous Major George Templeton (Michael Rennie), who admires lovely Evie Bishop (Jean Simmons). Evie has spent years in one sanatorium after another. Ashenden also observes the ongoing feud between longtime patients Mr. Campbell (John Laurie) and Mr. McLeod (Finlay Currie), who delight in making each other's lives miserable. Finally, Mr. Chester (Raymond Huntley) resents the visits of his loving wife (Betty Ann Davies) because he envies her robust good health.
Tragedy strikes when McLeod dies, depriving Campbell of his enjoyment of life. Meanwhile, George and Evie fall in love; however, doctors warn them that George will hasten his death if they marry and try to enjoy a normal life. Despite the warning, the lovers decide that happiness, no matter how brief, is worth the price and leave the sanatorium. Their example eases Mr. Chester's bitterness with his own fate and strengthens his love for his wife.James Hayter as Albert Foreman
Kathleen Harrison as Emma Foreman (née Brown)
Michael Hordern as the vicar
Felix Aylmer as the bank manager
Lana Morris as Gladys, Emma's daughter
Glyn Houston as Ted, Gladys' husband
Nigel Patrick as Max Kelada
Wilfred Hyde-White as Mr. Gray
Anne Crawford as Mrs. Ramsay
Naunton Wayne as Mr. Ramsay
Clive Morton as the ship's captain
Bill Travers as Fellowes (credited as Bill Linden-Travers)
Michael Rennie as Major George Templeton
Jean Simmons as Evie Bishop
Roland Culver as Mr. Ashenden
André Morell as Dr. Lennox
John Laurie as Mr. Campbell
Finlay Currie as Mr. McLeod
Raymond Huntley as Mr. Chester
Betty Ann Davies as Mrs. Chester
The New York Times Bosley Crowther described the film as "another delightful screen potpourri, made from short stories of W. Somerset Maugham...Wonderfully rich...Shot through with keen, ironic humor" TV Guide called it "a small and highly enjoyable film."
Trade papers called the film a "notable box office attraction" in British cinemas in 1950.