This true story of Jim Fisk shows some of his financial manipulations and why he promoted the career of actress Josie Mansfield.
In 1861 Jim Fisk (Edward Arnold) peddles soap with Luke (Jack Oakie) and Nick Boyd (Cary Grant). During the Civil War they smuggle cotton and make $821,000; but Luke bought Confederate bonds. Fisk arranges to buy boats from Dan Drew (Donald Meek) for railroad men. Fisk, Luke, and Nick make Drew believe they are building boats and make $500,000 on the deal. Nick goes out with singer Fleurique (Thelma Leeds). Fisk meets her maid Josie Mansfield (Frances Farmer) and takes her out. Fleurique sees Josie in her dress; but Fisk gives Fleurique $500. Josie is persuaded to accept a necklace from Fisk. Drew complains to Fisk and Nick but joins them against his rival Vanderbilt. Fisk tells Drew to give a 50% dividend on his Erie railroad. The stock goes up, and Vanderbilt (Clarence Kolb) buys.
Nick blames Josie for distracting Fisk from business. Fisk gets around Vanderbilt's injunction by selling convertible bonds. In a uniform Fisk flees the warrant with Drew to New Jersey with his regiment while Vanderbilt chases them. Nick stays with Josie, who has her photo taken and sings "The First Time I Saw You." Nick and Josie say they don't like each other; but Nick defends her from reporters. Josie says that Nick is in love with her, and he kisses her. Fisk commands his regiment. Nick warns Drew that Vanderbilt offered a reward for him. Fisk, Luke, and Nick use fire hoses on a Cherry Hill gang. Drew tells Vanderbilt that Fisk led him astray. Fisk and Nick come in to make a deal with Vanderbilt and throw out Drew. Nick warns Fisk that stockholders want him indicted for buying an opera house. Fisk tells Nick he hopes to marry Josie. Nick tells Josie that Fisk loves her, and she must marry him. Josie opens in The Twelve Temptations; but afterward the audience yells at Fisk.
Fisk tells Nick that they could corner gold; but Nick warns him of panic and refuses to be a part of it. Nick sells a million in gold to Fisk at 140. Luke brings Nick to Josie. Nick tells her that Fisk will lose. Vanderbilt warns Fisk. Luke tells Fisk not to go; but Fisk sends Luke to buy gold. Many companies fail. Josie tells Fisk it is not right, because people are suffering. Fisk says only he and her matter; but she says he is selfish. Vanderbilt announces that President Grant released gold from the treasury, and the price drops. Fisk tells Josie that he is broke, and he laughs. Josie says she gave her things to Nick. Men come after Fisk, and he is shot. Nick, Luke, and Josie hold Fisk's hands as he dies.
Most of this story is accurate except for the comedy scenes. Fisk made money on the Erie railroad with Drew and Jay Gould using fraudulent stock against Vanderbilt, and he spent corporate funds promoting Josie Mansfield. His bribes of public officials were not depicted. His gold scheme caused the Black Friday panic on September 24, 1869. Gould did sell his gold before prices fell. Fisk was shot by an associate after a quarrel over Josie and business in 1872. Thus actual greed and selfishness were portrayed.