Lionel Barrymore plays a Marshall Field-like Chicago businessman who emerges from the wreckage of the 1871 fire to build a department-store empire. Barrymore is aided by his Jewish manager Gregory Ratoff, who despite his business acumen is never made a full partner. The store magnate's four children grow up to be disappointments, preferring to squander dad's money and refusing to enter his business. Manager Ratoff realizes that Barrymore's offspring are worthless, and quietly buys up their shares of the store in order to save the business from ruin, emerging with full charge of Barrymore's empire. Only when Barrymore is on the verge of death do his children rally around him and promise to make something of themselves. A well-made 20th century equivalent to King Lear, Sweepings was remade less effectively as Three Sons in 1939.