Suggested by Carroll Graham's novel, a Mexican-American fails as a lawyer but succeeds in a gambling business on the border while suffering troubles with two white women.
In the Mexican quarter of Los Angeles Johnny Ramirez (Paul Muni) labored by day and studied at night to earn a law degree. He explains to Jose he needs money to sue in court. Johnny fixes Manuel's car. When Dale Elwell (Margaret Lindsay) drives into Manuel's car, Johnny sues. Dale's lawyer Mandillo (Gavin Gordon) gets one objection sustained after another. Johnny gets angry and is cited for contempt of court. The judge says he did not prepare his case. Dale offers Johnny money for Manuel's car; but her lawyer stops her. Johnny hits Mandillo and is disbarred.
Intending to get money, Johnny hitch-hikes south and gets a job as a bouncer in a gambling hall owned by Charlie Roark (Eugene Pallette). Johnny's dedication to the business soon gains him a 25% interest and the affection of Charlie's wife Marie (Bette Davis). She refuses to go with Charlie to Los Angeles with a dentist so she can make a play for Johnny; but he won't betray his partner. When Charlie gets drunk, Marie drives him home and leaves him in the garage with the motor running. The police question her and call it accidental death. Johnny advises Marie on money and has a new casino built. Marie is restless, but Johnny won't take her to Los Angeles.
When Johnny's new casino, La Rueda, opens, Dale and Mandillo ask for a table. Dale calls Johnny a "savage" and asks for personal service. Johnny dances with her, and Marie complains he kept her waiting. Dale is impressed with Johnny and tells him to enjoy. Marie tells Johnny that she murdered Charlie to get him. Johnny tells her to stay away. Johnny calls on Dale, walks in, forcing her to dress and go with him in his new car. After this trip to Los Angeles he tells Marie he is going to be engaged. Marie tells the magistrate that Johnny made her murder Charlie, and he is arrested. At the trial Marie acts insane, and Johnny is released. He calls on Dale; but she is going to a family dinner. He drives her, parks, tells her he loves her and asks her to marry. She says no, because he is in a different tribe. He gets angry, and Dale runs in front of a car. La Rueda is sold for $250,000 so that Johnny can endow a law school. He confesses in church, prays with his mother, and tells Padre he is returning to his own people.
This story explores racial prejudices and cultural differences. Unable to succeed right away in the white legal world, Johnny thrives in the gambling business; but social prejudice keeps Dale from accepting him as a mate. Johnny learns, and his investing in legal education offers hope.