Gene Garrison (Gene Hackman), a forty-year-old New York college professor, wants to break away from his aging parents, especially his irascible father, Tom (Melvyn Douglas), whom he's never been able to please. Intending to marry a doctor and move to California, Gene's plans are delayed when his mother dies. Attending the funeral, Gene's estranged sister Alice (Estelle Parsons), who's been disowned by Tom, tells her brother he must assert himself and break free from their father. Unwilling to place the old man in a nursing home, Gene puts his future on hold, until he and Tom have one last bitter fight. Gene leaves to live his own life, just before his father passes away.