... Madame X, Giant, and War and Peace, except Russia and Napoleon have nothing to do with it.
Plot wise it is no great shakes. In 19th century Britain, a fun loving young woman (Ann Harding as Lady Isabella) marries wealthy barrister Robert Carlyle (Conrad Nagel). He sweeps her off her feet and is quite the romantic. But when the two return to his ancestral home of East Lynne, everything changes. Robert's humorless old maid sister, Cecelia, doesn't like Isabella, she has always overseen the household and has no intention of giving that job up (this is where it is like Giant), and pretty much makes Isabella a guest in her own home. And also Robert is gone on business all of the time, and when he IS home spends his time chastising Isabella over not being dignified enough.
Let's just cut matters short and say that the first time that Isabella's foot even comes close to slipping, Cecelia witnesses only part of it, fills in the blanks with things that would have never happened to her at any age, and is believed by Robert over Isabella. She is turned out and kept from her child. Isabella becomes a scandal in England and thus she leaves and goes to Europe where she is not known. Things go downhill for her first financially, then physically, and ultimately she is told she is going blind. Excuse me, but isn't this beginning to sound like a Constance Bennett film from the same era? But I digress.
She travels back to England to see her son one more time before she goes blind. She is in her son's sick room when the film hits the missing reel. All I can say is about half a dozen unbelievable melodrama tropes hit in that last twelve minutes. But one of them is not, unfortunately, Robert and Cecelia being hit by a meteor. That would be a satisfying ending.
The acting here is what is really good and overcomes the tired material. Harding was always excellent, but Clive Brook was always playing the stodgy character over at Paramount in the early talkie years. Here he is given a meaty role of somebody I like, love, and hate, depending on where the storyline is. Conrad Nagel, who doesn't have too much screen time, plays his role like the unlikeable implacable descendant of Puritans that his character is. If he is indeed "10th generation Puritan" as Isabella's dad says, I wonder why his ancestors didn't leave England with the others on the Mayflower? If Robert's relatives are anything like him, his ancestors were probably such kill joys that the other Puritans gave his relatives the wrong day and the wrong ship so they wouldn't be stuck on a sea journey with them.
East Lynne was nominated for only one Academy award - Best Picture. It was a year of weak nominees but not weak films. East Lynne was up against Skippy, Trader Horn, The Front Page, and winner Cimarron, which today is one of the more ponderous Best Picture decisions. The acting definitely makes this film, and is the reason to watch it if it ever comes your way.