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After five years of retirement, longtime theater star Preston "Mitch" Mitchell continues to reject the efforts of his soon-to-be ex-girl friend, actress Nita Holloway, and agent Phil to interest him in a new stage role, playing the father to teen idol Tony Manza. Insulted by Nita's accusations that he is frightened of competing against the new breed of Method actor, Mitch leaves in a huff. At his Connecticut horse farm, his perpetually tipsy housekeeper, Mrs. Early, is followed by a seagull that she has wounded during her attempt to shoot a chicken for dinner. When Bill Tremaine, the young man who lives next door, visits to complain that his latest girl friend has married a rich older man, Mitch cheers him up by loaning him his car for a party that night. At the party, Bill is at first dejected by the lack of single women, but is soon approached by dental secretary Janet Blake, who is trying to escape the drunken clutches of her boss, Dr. McCafferty. Janet quits and asks Bill for a ride to the subway, but once in the car, he offers to drive her all the way to Brooklyn. Suspecting he is going to accost her, she jumps out of the car in front of Bill's house. Bill chases Janet into the rainy night, scandalizing his mother Margaret when she hears him suggest to the young woman that she get out of her wet clothes. Still frightened, a soaking wet Janet bangs on Mitch's door, hoping to call a cab. Once inside, however, he also advises her to take off her dress, and Janet reacts in alarm. After Mitch finally manages to calm Janet down, they discuss his career and her recent loss of one. Mitch is delighted with his young visitor, and when Nita calls once again to invite Mitch over, he has Janet pretend to be his "personal secretary" to dissuade her from pursuing him. Eventually, it becomes clear that Janet will have to spend the night while waiting for her dress to dry. In the morning, Margaret visits Mitch to ask his advice about Bill, whose actions the night before has upset her, but as soon as Janet shows up at the breakfast table in pajamas, Margaret assumes the worst and prepares to leave. Just then, Nita visits, and also believes that Mitch is having an affair with Janet, even after Janet heatedly denies the accusation. Bill, however, who appears minutes later, is certain that Mitch is far too old to have an interest in young women and is thrilled to see Janet again. After asking Nita to leave, Mitch drives Janet to the train station, and during their ensuing discussion about love, he asserts that people fall in love when they find something they need in someone else. Just before the train pulls away, Mitch impulsively offers Janet a job as his secretary, and, while running alongside the train to give her his phone number, falls into a ditch. His resulting back injury is tended to by Mrs. Early, who gives him a hot-water bottle filled with brandy. Janet soon calls to accept the job, and although Mitch re-injures his back trying to answer the phone, he feigns perfect health while insisting that she move into his house to avoid the long commute. The next day, Bill picks up Janet at the station and proposes that they date, ensuring her that Mitch could not be interested in her because he "wants to take it easy in his old age." He brings her to the farm, where Phil, Nita and Tony are visiting in the hope of convincing Mitch to join their play. Tony is in the yard practicing "psychic existentialism," which requires intense concentration, on the seagull to heal its wing. After Mitch declares that he cannot abide the current acting trend of mumbling and slouching on stage, they join Tony in the yard just in time to see the seagull take flight, completely cured. Over the next few days, Mitch grows more captivated with Janet's straightforward, youthful charm, a fact that remains unnoticed by Bill, who visits regularly to ride Mitch's champion horse, Miss Holly. One night, Bill invites Janet to a dance, and although she is at first disappointed that Mitch will not join them, Mitch surprises everyone by showing up later. Janet, who is falling in love with her debonair boss, tries to make him jealous by dancing with Bill, and later accepts Mitch's offer to rhumba. They dance beautifully, but he soon throws out his back, prompting him to leave suddenly. When Janet returns late that night, she pretends to be drunk in order to flirt openly with Mitch. He kisses her, but has to hide the fact that he cannot straighten up afterward. In the morning, Bill visits Janet, but when she treats him coolly, he realizes that something has happened between her and Mitch, and angrily denounces Mitch as a lecher. Bill is supposed to ride Miss Holly in an exhibition that afternoon, but decides to ride a rival's horse instead, forcing Mitch to compete against him. At the horse show, Margaret, concerned for Bill's happiness, asks for Nita's help in dissuading Mitch from dating Janet. Although Bill and Mitch are soon tied in the competition, Bill falls from his horse at the last moment, causing Margaret and Nita to chastise Mitch for putting him at risk. That night, Bill, who has sustained a back injury but is healing speedily, calls Mitch to apologize and concede that age does not matter to love. Impressed, Mitch pensively agrees that age does not matter, but one must be "who you really are." After hanging up, Mitch knocks on Janet's door, and although she is thrilled to see him there, he reveals that he is not truly in love with her. After rhapsodizing about "intangible love" and his newly found ability to embrace youth and vitality, "today and now," Mitch realizes that, by turning down the too-young Janet without hurting her, he has completed his best performance to date. Months later, at the culmination of his successful return to Broadway, Mitch leaves with Nita, Janet with Bill, and Mrs. Early with the seagull.