Based on crime photographer Tom Howard's career, an ex-convict works for a tabloid getting dangerous pictures while falling for a cop's daughter.
Danny Kean (James Cagney) gets out of prison, and Jerry (Ralf Harolde) gives him his share of the gang's interest; but Danny says he is quitting to work for a tabloid. Danny goes to editor McLean (Ralph Bellamy) for a job reporting. Grover (Robert Barrat) tells McLean to get a photographer, and Danny volunteers despite danger. Danny poses as an insurance claims adjuster in order to steal a photo from a fireman with a rifle. Grover hires Danny at $20 a week. The fireman comes after Danny, but Allison (Alice White) takes Danny home. When drunk McLean arrives, Danny leaves. McLean asks Danny to show journalism students around, and Danny uses linotype to ask to see Patricia Nolan (Patricia Ellis) again. At 3 a.m. Danny tries to kiss Patricia and meets her father, the cop Casey Nolan (Robert Emmett O'Connor), who goes to McLean. Nolan learns that Danny got him a favor and invites Danny over. Danny asks Patricia to get hitched, but she is still in school.
Grover wants a photo of a woman being executed and offers $1,000. Danny says he'll get it. In a bar Danny meets a drunk reporter, locks him up, and takes his invitation. Danny says he is filling in for the reputable Record, and Captain Nolan gets him in. Danny takes a picture with a hidden camera. Nolan and reporters organize to stop Danny and chase him. Danny jumps from the car and is seen on a train but escapes to bring the photo to Grover. McLean has Danny tell the story, and Alice types it with improvements. McLean tells Danny to stay at Alice's while she is up-state. Danny calls Patricia, but her father tells her he will be demoted.
Danny is bored when Alice comes home and tells him to stay while she changes. She kisses him but is jealous, telling Danny he got Nolan demoted. McLean comes in and hits Danny, who hits him back. Danny slaps Alice and leaves. Patricia tells Danny that he was hired as a thug to snatch pictures, and Danny rips up his marriage license. McLean looks for Danny and finds him drunk. McLean says he quit, and Danny learns that Jerry killed two cops. Danny tells McLean he will find Jerry so they can get good jobs. Danny romances a woman to find Jerry and sneaks a photo. Police arrive, and Jerry tells Danny to shoot police with him. While Jerry shoots, Danny protects Jerry's wife and kids. Danny fights Jerry, who is shot by police. Nolan confirms Danny's story, and McLean and Danny get the story published in the Record. McLean tells Nolan that Danny got him promoted, and Nolan lets Patricia see Danny. Alice joins Danny in a car; but when Danny sees Patricia and McLean approaching, he makes sure that McLean drives off with Alice and kisses Patricia.
In this melodrama of a reforming gangster Danny uses questionable methods to get pictures, but stealing and lying are a step above extortion and murder. The story shows how a gangster's tactics can corrupt journalism and vice versa.