Adapted from Jerome Odlum's novel, a man embittered by an unjust conviction flees with his new wife, because he is wanted for murder.
After sixteen months Joe Bell (John Garfield) is released from prison, because the real criminal was caught. A brakeman (Charley Grapewin) lets Joe, Hank Glenn (Billy Halop) and Jimmy Glenn (Bobby Jordan) ride a freight car; but they are arrested and sent to a work camp as vagrants. Mabel (Priscilla Lane) laughs at Joe for milking a cow from the wrong side. They quarrel, and her step-father Charlie (Stanley Ridges) puts Joe on the road gang, warning him to stay away from Mabel. She explains to the warden, who lets Joe drive a truck. Joe gets supplies with Mabel, and her Pop is the brakeman, who disagrees with Joe's cynical attitude. Mabel gets Joe to say he loves her. Charlie sees them kiss and fights with Joe, collapsing. Mabel runs off with Joe, and they get a ride to another state.
Caruthers (Frank McHugh) persuades Joe and Mabel to get married on stage for a cash prize. On radio they hear that they are wanted for murder. Mabel asks Joe to give himself up, but she travels with him, hitch-hiking. They quarrel but make up. To pay for a meal they work for Nick Spelucci (Henry Armetta). Two detectives find Mabel, who warns Joe to run. Joe asks Nick for help and uses a camera and a gun to get Mabel out of jail. Nick drives them to a freight train. Joe can't get a job as a photographer. Mabel tells him if he steals, she will leave him. Joe goes to rob, but a woman offers him food. Joe goes back to Mabel. While selling his camera, Joe sees a bank robbery and takes pictures. Joe pushes in to show editor Mike Leonard (Alan Hale) his photos and is hired for $30 a week with a bonus. Joe and Mabel get a good meal. Mike tells Joe that they want a picture of him. Joe says he is wanted for murder; but Mabel says Joe did not kill her step-father. Mike tells others he took the pictures. Gangster Venetti offers Mike $15,000 for the negatives. Mike refuses and is abducted. Joe goes to rescue Mike and is wounded. Journalists photograph Joe. Mabel tells Joe to face it and turns him in.
The prosecutor (John Litel) uses witnesses to build a case for capital murder. Joe says the jurors don't consider him their equal. Charlie had a bad heart, and Joe's lawyer (Moroni Olsen) argues he should not be convicted because he is a nobody. Mabel testifies eloquently for Joe, and he is found not guilty. In the final scene Joe and Mabel take a passenger train home.
The studio had lost money on the tragic You Only Live
Twice and insisted on changing the ending that had Joe and Mabel
being shot to death. I agree with Mabel that Joe should have faced
trial instead of running, and I believe the ending is not only
happy but realistic as well. Violence is dramatic; but in real
life it is the exception, not the rule; thank God. Yet this story
reveals how society can convict people wrongfully and make life
very difficult for those without social privileges.