The film tells the story of Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood), a salesgirl at Macy's department store who finds herself pregnant after a brief affair with musician Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen). When she tracks him down he doesn't remember her. She does not expect him to marry her; all she wants is enough money to pay for an abortion. Meanwhile, Angie is being pressured by her older brothers, played by Herschel Bernardi and Harvey Lembeck, to marry the unappealing cook Anthony (Tom Bosley).
Rocky scrapes up money for the crude backroom abortion. But when he and Angie meet the abortionist, it turns out the abortionist is not a doctor. Rocky refuses to let her go through with the dangerous procedure. The maturity he shows by doing this brings them closer. After meeting her brothers, Rocky proposes he "take his medicine" by marrying her. Angie is insulted and refuses. Angie wants a love relationship, with "bells and banjos."
As an act of independence Angie moves out of the family home. She begins dating Anthony, who offers to marry her. By acting aloof she attracts Rocky, whom she invites to dinner. At dinner he makes advances on her and is rejected. Angie says she doesn't want to make the last mistake. They quarrel and she throws him out. The next day, Rocky waits for her outside Macy's, ringing bells and playing a banjo, and wins her over.
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards for:
The film was also nominated for two Golden Globes Awards for Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories.