A gangster organizes the illegal beer gangs and then gets married and quits; but violence causes him to return.
Steve Mileaway (James Cagney) sends Monk, who guns down Whitey on his doorstep. Louie Ricarno (Lew Ayres) is questioned by police captain Pat O'Grady (Robert Elliott) and says his business is beer, but his cash bribe is declined. Steve tells men to attend a meeting with Louie, who declares himself boss of the gangs and is backed by a machine gun. Louie dances with Doris (Dorothy Mathews) and asks her to marry. Louie sends a sword to his little brother Jackie Lamarr (Leon Janney) in military school. Doris asks Steve not to forget her and kisses him. Louie tells Steve that he is quitting the racket, informing the men that Steve is now boss.
On his honeymoon Louie and Doris visit his old neighborhood and Jackie at school, where the officer tells Louie that war is profitless. Fat Midget (Edwin Argus) complains to Steve that his truck was hijacked. Rocco (Noel Madison) brings in hijackers, and a gang war erupts. Louie goes out for golf, and Steve calls Doris, who says that Louie is a dud. Steve asks Doris to bring Louie back. Louie tells Steve that he won't go back. Midget and Gimpy try to abduct Jackie, who runs off and is run over by a truck. Louie finishes his autobiography and learns that Jackie was killed. Louie tells Steve that he knows who did it and calls Rocco to produce Gimpy at nine. Captain Pat calls on Louie and warns him not to do it; but Gimpy is killed at nine. Pat tells Louie not to leave town. Louie tells Steve to take Doris out and goes after Midget. In a car Doris gives Steve her wedding ring. Midget waits and trucks drive off. Steve and Doris find Pat waiting. Pat arrests Steve and interrogates him about Midget's murder. Pat knows where Steve was with Doris and threatens to tell Louie, getting Steve to sign a confession. Louie is in jail for killing Gimpy, and Steve learns that.
Louie pretends he is sick and escapes. Louie in a room buys a newspaper and reads of gang battles. The newsboy brings him groceries. Pat finds Louie and warns him a gang is waiting for him. Pat says that Louie couldn't be convicted and leaves him to be killed. A man brings Louie a dinner with a message it is his last. Louie tosses his gun down and walks out. An epilog is the conclusion of Louie's autobiography, stating that the doorway to hell is one-way with no retribution.
This gangster drama shows how difficult it can be to leave a life of violence behind even though Louie used threats to prevent conflict. Repressed violence tends to erupt, and revenge produces more revenge.