Directed by Lloyd Bacon, the murder of a wealthy man in a small town draws reporters from New York who look for the sensational aspects that sell newspapers while a local reporter manages to discover the real criminals and report the story.
Bruce Foster (Tom Brown) gets out of a car of the Cornwall Courier at a railway station, and he is advised that a car that just pulled up has news. Judd Brooks (Leon Ames) gets out of the car, and Mrs. Marcia Ferguson (Vivienne Osborne), who was driving, tells him to hurry back. He is going to get the payroll for the overalls company, and she says bankers only think of money. Bruce asks her if Mr. Ferguson is coming today, but she says he has been working hard. Bruce greets George M. Ferguson (Purnell Pratt) as he gets off the train, and he says he just had a couple days rest. He sees his wife and tells her it is a pleasant surprise. She is glad to see him and says she was just driving around and stopped to see who was on the train. He gets in the car, and she drives off. Judd comes back and sees her go. His father Mr. Brooks (Oscar Apfel) is there and asks about his wife. Judd says the baby is expected in four months and that he has to get over to the bank.
In an office Bruce shows Tony Martin (Adrienne Dore) the magazine he got and asks if she would like to go to the city. She wants to go to places where more is happening. He says he will try for it but wonders how to do it. He says many journalists started in small towns before they got to New York. He invites her to go out and eat, but she says she has work. She asks him not to forget about her when he gets to the big city. He kisses her and goes out.
At Ferguson Manor at night a couple in a car are kissing, and they hear a bang. Johnny says it was a car backfiring. He says the next bang was a shot, and they leave.
Tony says nothing happens in their small town. An old man says reporters don’t make money, but she tells him how much they earn in New York. Bruce comes back and answers the phone. The operator tells him that there was just a call to the sheriff’s office about a shooting at the Ferguson place. He hangs up and is excited. He says it is a real story and runs out.
Bruce arrives and asks the sheriff (Willard Robertson) what happened. He does not know, and Bruce suggests they try to get in. The sheriff tells his assistant to run down to the servants. Bruce and the sheriff break in the front door and find the electricity is out. They go upstairs and find Mr. Ferguson lying on the bedroom floor dead. Mrs. Ferguson is moaning on the bed, and Bruce unties her hands and mouth. She says they killed him, and they were burglars. She describes two men. The sheriff asks her to say what happened. She says her husband got up to turn on the lights. He hit one man, and then the other man shot him. She notices that her valuable ring is gone and cries. The sheriff questions the servants and asks a woman what she heard.
Bruce writes the story of the Ferguson murder and tells the telegraph operator at the railway station to send it to newspapers in New York.
A plane arrives from New York at Cornwall. Bob Parks (Kenneth Thompson) and Jim Perrin (Leslie Fenton) of the New York Globe get out. Parks drinks from what is left in the jug.
The train stops, and reporters get off. A man asks how far to Cornwall, and Maizie Dickson (Joan Blondell) wonders how she got herself into a job like this.
Parks and Perrin wake up Bruce Foster in the office and learn he is the man they are looking for. Parks says his story was great and asks for the better hotels. Bruce offers to take them to the only hotel. Tony comes in and asks Bruce if anything is new. She is glad to meet Parks, and he invites her to eat with them. Bruce says she can come along, and she agrees.
As they enter the hotel, Parks asks Bruce if Judd Brooks is married. Bruce denies that he plays around and says folks in a small town do a lot of talking. Parks sees Jigger Bolton (George Meeker) of the New York Bulletin and introduces him. Parks asks Tony to show them the ropes. Maisie comes in with two men, and Parks introduces her to Bruce and Tony.
In the sheriff’s office reporters question Mrs. Ferguson, and Parks and Perrin ask if she quarreled with her husband over Judd Brooks. She says the argument was about her husband’s business affairs. Parks implies she is having an affair with Brooks, and older Martin Collins (Grant Mitchell) tells him to stop it. She asks the sheriff to make them stop, but he says they are only doing what he would have to do.
At the bank the teller Judd Brooks tells Maisie that he and Mrs. Ferguson are merely old friends. Maisie says that the maid said she was quarreling with her husband about Brooks. He tells her not to print anything like that. Craig (Russell Simpson) tells them to be careful about what they publish in order to protect the bank. He says it could be catastrophic. Their town depends on the overall factory which depends on the bank. She hopes Brooks kept his nose clean, and she leaves.
Reporters come out of the sheriff’s office, and in the hall Parks tells Perrin that Brooks probably did it. Parks says he did not like the way Collins asked her to repeat her story; he says they have to watch him.
Collins comes back to his office and says that Parks tried to take it over again and pushed the sheriff out of the way. Other reporters complain about that scandal-sheet crowd that has messed up previous cases. Collins says that Parks, Perrin, Bolton and that crowd would lie and steal to make a good story. He says in this case they may be right. He says they will handle this case as news, and they will meet there every night. Collins tells George to get an inspector to come up there and help the sheriff with the fingerprinting. Collins sends Hanley to the Cornwall country club to pick up the gossip.
Parks shows the county attorney Jeffries (Clarence Wilson) how to pose for a photo like he was charging the jury. Jeffries sits down and says he can’t arrest Judd Brooks. Bolton asks if they have to tell him how to run his office. Jeffries asks on what charge, and Parks says they know Brooks is involved. Bolton says at least he can hold him as a material witness. The prosecutor says he won’t run away, but Bolton says they have information that he might elope to South America with Mrs. Ferguson. Parks threatens to print that, but the prosecutor doubts this and asks if they are going to start a scandal about the bank. Parks says in New York they would not let a valuable witness get away because of a bank. Jeffries thinks and says they are right, and he will get the sheriff.
Bruce is typing, and Mr. Brooks asks where Tony is.
In his hotel room Parks says he got what he needed to mix drinks from the drugstore. He gives it out and tells Tony it is hard to get the right ingredients. She likes it. Perrin comes in and says the Brooks family was found. Parks says the new story is that Brooks is going to be arrested, and he tells Tony that their local officials have not been properly trained. She says this is like a school of journalism for her. Parks invites her to go out to dinner, and they leave.
Parks and Tony are dining out, and he says he wants to be friends with her. He starts to tell her about himself.
In the hotel room Bolton tells Perrin that Parks should be ashamed of himself because she is just a punk kid. Maisie comes in and asks where Parks is.
Parks admits to Tony that he is a chronic alcoholic. He is moody and can be bad news for his friends because of what he says. She says a real friend would understand. He says he has not met the right one. He admits he is married, but it is a pretense. She is an invalid. Maisie comes in and sits down next to Parks. She finishes his story about why he would not hurt his wife by asking for a divorce. Tony gets up and leaves. Maisie tells Parks she is sick of his shoving her around.
Tony returns to the office, and Bruce can see she is upset. He asks her what is new. She says she has no lead for tomorrow. She suggests he go out and get something sensational. He puts his arms around her, and she says the office is not the place for that. He says he only sees her there. She types, and he shows her a story he wrote and promised the sheriff he would print with the main story. She looks at it and puts it down. She opens a package and thanks him for the Ybry perfume from Paris.
Two photographers talk as they wait. Mrs. Brooks comes out of the house, and Parks and Perrin are there to ask her questions. She wishes they would see her husband at the bank. Perrin asks her what time her husband got home the night Ferguson was murdered. She says he was at the bank that night. Perrin asks if he went to the Ferguson place. She denies that the Ferguson’s quarreled about her husband. Collins arrives and listens. Perrin asks if she was thinking of divorcing him, and she says no. Perrin says he was arrested, and she gets upset and faints on the steps. Collins and Parks pick her up. Collins sends a man to call an ambulance and get a doctor. The housekeeper comes out and tells them that she is going to have a baby.
Bruce talks to his printer in the office, and Collins compliments him on his newspaper. Bruce asks how he got his first job in New York, and Collins says he was lucky that he asked for a job just when someone was leaving. He wonders if it was good or bad luck because he has wished he was not a newspaperman at times. He does not like the shabby business like that interview with Mrs. Brooks this afternoon. He says the news business sells news and public service. He gets disgusted when news degenerates into snooping into people’s private affairs. Then you dig up a story that an owner sent a ship to sea without the proper repairs and sank, and the guilty men get put in jail. Or you do a story about conditions in the coal fields and persuade Congress to investigate. He says when the spell runs thin, they get a fresh injection of public service. Then they carry on. Now he needs a big shot.
In his office the prosecutor Jeffries tells the reporters that he is going to release Mrs. Ferguson. Parks asks why, and he says he is reasonably certain she is innocent. Bolton asks if he calls that news. Parks says his paper will report that the Cornwall prosecutor is afraid to act against wealthy criminals. Jeffries says she is not a criminal, and Perrin asks if he believes her story. Jeffries says someone else must have been there to tie her up. Perrin says she had help, and he knows who it was. Jeffries says he has no proof. Parks tells him they have seen officials here crawl away from their duty. He says if he is going to let her go free because she is a big frog in a little puddle, he is giving them news. Perrin tells him that she and Brooks are laughing at him right now. Parks explains the case to him and says the maid said she heard the row over Brooks. Naturally Mrs. Ferguson denies it. He says they fought for a while and then called Brooks to come and face a showdown. Jeffries says they don’t know that. Parks says they know he got a phone call, and he told his wife he had to go to the bank. Parks says that Brooks went to the Fergusons, and the two men fought. One man was shot. He says Brooks and Mrs. Ferguson were smart enough to keep their affair secret, and they decided to say that it was burglars. He says they hid her jewelry, and he advises him to search Brooks’ house for that stuff. He says Brooks cut the wires, tied her up, and ran off. Witnesses saw a man running away, and they said he looked like Brooks. Bolton asks if that is enough for anybody. Jeffries says he has known Judd Brooks for years, and Bolton says he is going to let him off. Parks says that is good enough news, and he tells the boys to go. The reporters are leaving, and Jeffries says he will try to see if he can make out a case. He says if he does, they have to stick with him. Bolton and others say they are with him and pat him on the shoulders as they leave.
In the sheriff’s office Bruce asks Judd Brooks and Mrs. Ferguson to tell him everything that happened that night. She asks if she has to tell it all again, and the sheriff urges her to do it. Bruce asks her to describe the two men she saw climb in through the back window. She says she saw them plainly.
People have gathered outside the Cornwall courthouse. Inside the prosecutor Jeffries asks Mrs. Ferguson if she was engaged to Judd Brooks before she married. She says no but admits that their families had some kind of an understanding. Maisie gets up from the reporters table and goes out. On an objection the judge rules that the witness is being evasive.
Maisie goes to the hotel room and knocks. Parks opens the door, and she goes in and sees Tony. She says there is a murder trial going on. She asks if he knows how many stories Perrin has written for him. Parks admits that Perrin has written 300 or 400 for him but says Tommy Crandall has written many more. She says he must know that their writing his stories is not doing him any good and that he will get canned, and no one will hire him. She has been telling him that for four years and three months. She says it was before she bobbed her hair, and she asks Tony if the bobby pins are hers. Tony says no. Maisie knocks her hat off and reveals her longer hair. Tony stands up and says yes. Maisie tells her to tuck in her hair and get out of there. Tony says she can’t make her. Parks tells Maisie not to make a scene and that they have known for months that they might as well end it. Maisie says he wants to take Tony to New York, and she pushes her down on the couch. She says she will have a swell time on Broadway because he is one of the best teachers. He will teach her how to breathe night club air, how to drink straight rye and make eighteen kinds of cocktails and take care of crying drunks. She will let the men do the work for her; but she will learn that some of them won’t do it for nothing. They will teach her how to steal pictures and how to chisel on her expense account. He will introduce her to hot-shot hostesses and speakeasy junkies. She will learn not to spill her drinks, but one days she will wake up with a hangover bigger than Texas. She will wonder if there is one good reason to go on living. Parks says then she will take three drinks and not give a hoot. Maisie says that for a few weeks she will be known as the cute Martin kid, but then they will call her “good old Tony.” She will be the tough twist for The Globe or a speakeasy sob sister. When you add it up, there will be a minus sign on it, and it bears a close resemblance to Bob Parks, Broadway’s buddy. Parks says the nice thing is that you will have so many things to repent when you are older, and time grows heavy. Tony says it bothers her because she is younger. Parks says Maisie is only twenty, and Maisie guesses that Tony is 21 or 22. She asks her to wait to see what five years does to her face, and then says she is lying. Tony says she has more strength of character. Maisie says okay; she wins. She shakes her hand and welcomes her to the sobbing sisterhood; she will send her a membership card in the mail. Maisie tells Bob to try to treat her straighter because she seems like a nice kid. Maisie goes out.
The sheriff leads Mrs. Ferguson out of the courthouse and through the crowd gathered outside.
Bruce finds a handkerchief outside the hotel room and knocks. Parks tells him to come in, and he does. Bruce shows him the handkerchief he found. Parks says his only visitor was his bootlegger. Bruce says he stopped by to tell him the line-up for tomorrow because he thought he might be sick. Parks thanks him and says he has a cold and played hooky. Bruce advises him to take care of himself and says Tony phoned him and said she was not feeling well either. Parks asks about the trial, Bruce says the defense rested, and it will go to the jury tomorrow afternoon. Parks says it looks like they will convict them of first degree. He hears a knock and tells them to come in. Perrin and Bolton come in and put down the prosecutor. Bruce says he would like to sock him in the nose. Parks says it is against the rules to hit a guy on your own team. Bruce sees the bobby pins on the floor and remembers when Maisie left the courtroom. Perrin gives drinks to Parks and Bruce who says he is going and leaves.
Maisie comes into the office and asks Bruce if he will lend her a typewriter so that she can do last-minute work. He says sure. She says the madhouse in the hotel is a hard place to work. She asks if Miss Martin will be needing it, and he says not for a while. He is letting her do the work in the town while he does the writing. He says Tony is a good mixer, gets around, and makes a lot of friends. Maisie agrees and says girls with that friendly feeling brighten things up. She asks if he was trying to make a crack and says that she was. Bruce puts the handkerchief on her desk. She asks if it is a hint that she is neglecting herself. She says it is not hers and says she does not use the Ybry perfume. He realizes that is what he gave Tony. He takes the handkerchief, gets his coat, and goes out.
On the doorstep Tony’s mother tells Bruce she is not there. As he walks away, Tony watches him from a window. He walks slowly, and the sheriff whispers to him. Bruce asks if anyone knows besides Mr. Collins and suggests what they should do.
Bruce is typing and answers the phone and tells the operator he wants The New York Express. He gives Joe some copy, and he says it is good work.
In Parks’ hotel room the reporters are having a party and are singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” In the room next door Collins and the serious journalists hear the singing and are trying to work. One man pounds on the wall. Collins says he howls best who howls last. He says he is going to see the fun.
At the party Maisie sees that Tony is sitting by Parks on the couch. Maisie by the piano sings along. Perrin pours Jeffries a drink and tells him to give them oratory. He advises him how to tell the jury that they must punish this woman and her paramour. He should say that the state demands that they convict them. A life has been taken, and the penalty must be death. Parks stands up and says the jury won’t be out fifteen minutes. He asks when the last woman was executed in this state, and Perrin says it was 1897. Parks tells him to work up a story on it to use as a shirt-tail with his verdict story.
Mrs. Ferguson is alone in jail.
Parks tells Jeffries that he is lucky that he came up there so that they could advise him. Otherwise he would not have any chance of being re-elected. They hear a newsboy announcing an extra newspaper. Parks looks out the window and asks Tony what this is about. She says she does not know. He asks if she and Foster have cooked up something. They hear a knock, and the newsboy comes in and says that Foster said they could have the newspapers he brought. He drops them on the floor and goes out. They eagerly grab them, and the headline says that the hold-up men who did the killing were captured in Boston and confessed. The Courier tracked them down. Parks asks Tony if she knew about this. She says she only knew that Bruce was writing to police departments across the country; but he would not tell her why. Parks says he has probably sold the story to every newspaper in New York. Maisie hopes that he has and says he has made monkeys out of these brains and beauties. Perrin asks Jeffries why he did not send out a police alarm about the missing ring. Jeffries says what they told him. Parks says they did not arrest her, indict her, and try her for murder. He asks Jeffries if he knows how close he came to taking the life of an innocent woman. The phone rings, and it is for Perrin. After apologizing to his boss, he hangs up and tells them that Foster gave the New York papers the story for nothing. Maisie says that is adding insult to injury. Bolton answers the phone and says that is tough and hangs up. He tells them that Mrs. Brooks died while giving birth to her child. They are all sad. Collins offers some well chosen words and says they are in a daze, but they are not too groggy to get this. What has just knocked them down is good newspaper work done by an honest newspaperman. That kid on that one-horse paper was not content to sit around and make news; he went out and got it. That is reporting that they have become too lazy to do. They don’t know how to get news. If they can’t buy it or steal it; they have to make it up. He knew that Foster was going to pop this story and that he has been working on it for three weeks. He sent the news to his paper and the decent newspapermen. He is glad he had the guts to shove it down their throats. He says they not only smashed the lives of innocent people and wrecked a community, but they also came close to destroying the profession that gives them their living. He tells them not to worry because they can’t do it. Crooked bankers have not wrecked the banking industry, and crooked politicians have not torn down the government. There are not enough of them. The newspaper got along without them for years, and it will continue to do so. He says they forgot that the press is just a mirror of public events. The press is no more responsible for what happens than a mirror is responsible for someone’s pug nose. He is going to see this thing through if he has to go to every newspaper publisher in New York and tell them the truth about these guys. He angrily tells them to hope to heaven that they do as good a job as the story someday.
Judd Brooks comes in, and no one says anything. He tells Parks that he is the man he wants to talk to and tells him to step outside. They go out in the hall, and Parks says he does not have much time. Brooks has his hands in his coat pockets and tells him he wants to talk to him downstairs. He directs him to go out the back door.
Perrin looks in the hall and says Parks is gone.
Outside Brooks tells Parks that he killed his wife.
Reporters go downstairs, and Perrin rings the bell at the desk. He asks the clerk if he saw Parks. The sheriff comes in and asks what is going on. Perrin says Brooks took Parks out, and he may have a gun. They see the back door open, and Brooks carries Parks in and drops him on the floor. Brooks is bruised on his face and tells the sheriff that if he wants him for this, he will be home. He goes out. Parks is conscious, and they ask if he is all right.
The Cornwall Courier reports that Mrs. Ferguson is going to sue the county, and people want to impeach the county attorney. The representatives of the metropolitan newspapers are leaving Cornwall to return to their former employers.
Bruce Foster shakes hands with Collins, and Parks comes over and congratulates him. Reporters are worried they have lost their jobs. Collins tells Bruce that if he wants the job, to send him a wire. Bruce says no thanks; he is staying here, probably for keeps. Parks says he would go over big in New York once he learned his way around. Bruce says there are some things he could not give up. Parks admits that he is still learning. The train arrives. Maisie wishes Parks good luck and says she is staying. She says her conscience is clear, and Parks says goodbye to her. Tony arrives with a suitcase and calls to Parks. He tells her to jump on the moving train, and Maisie helps her do so. Maisie joins Bruce and says he can’t tell her there is not an opening on the Cornwall Courier. He ask if she can handle the society news. She says with her experience she could handle a boa constrictor.
This drama contrasts a hard-working reporter in a small town who goes after what happened in a news story to big-shots from New York who think the have it made and try to sell a sensational story to the prosecutor even though it may not be true. The outstanding work of that reporter saved the scandal-mongers from the extreme embarrassment of possibly getting two innocent people convicted of a capital crime.