The film opens shortly before World War I. Raoul De Baere (Raft) is a dancer from New York City, aiming to become king of the European nightclub circuit. He tries to get Annette (famed exotic dancer Sally Rand) to be his dancing partner, but she refuses. He recruits Helen Hathaway (Lombard) instead and devises a very athletic routine to be accompanied by Ravel's Boléro (an anachronism, as the composition was not written until 1928).
He falls in love with Helen, but she does not reciprocate, and marries Lord Robert Coray (Ray Milland). Raoul serves in the U.S. Army in World War I and emerges with a weakened heart. Nevertheless, he vows to carry on with his career. He opens a smart nightclub in Paris, and recruits Annette (now desperate for work) as his new partner. On the opening night, as he is about to start the show, he finds her drunk and unable to perform. Fortunately, Helen is in the audience and agrees to stand in. Raoul hopes that she will rejoin him. Desperate to impress the audience, he overdoes his athletic routine, collapses and dies.
A double was used for Lombard in many of the shots in the dance scenes.
Although the film is regarded as a musical, there are no songs.