Two war veterans go into bootlegging and violence, but a lawyer turns straight and wins the wholesome girl.
In 1918 Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), George Hally (Humphrey Bogart) and lawyer Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn) fight Germans. After the war Eddie comes home to cab-driver Danny Green (Frank McHugh) in New York. Eddie can't find a job and discovers that correspondent Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane) is in high school. Prohibition becomes effective in 1920 with the Volstead Act. Eddie is arrested delivering a bottle. Lloyd gets Panama Smith (Gladys George) acquitted; Eddie gets sixty days, but Panama pays his $100 fine and takes him to a speakeasy, putting him in the liquor business. Eddie and Danny make it in a bathtub. Eddie hires convicts and pays Lloyd for buying more cabs. Eddie goes to collect money from a show producer and sees Jean dancing. He accompanies her home on the train and learns her mother died. Eddie has Jean audition singing "Melancholy Baby" for Panama and Pete Henderson (Edward Keane) and gets her hired for $100 a week. Eddie shows Jean the deceptive business and has Danny hire people to applaud her. Eddie bought a diamond for Jean, who sings "I'm Just Wild About Harry." Jean says she needs time, and Eddie promises to get out of boot-legging.
Eddie asks Nick Brown (Paul Kelly) to sell him good stuff, but Brown calls him "penny ante." On a boat Eddie has men board George's boat. Eddie stops the fighting with a gun and steals Brown's liquor as George warns him about Brown. George and Eddie decide to be partners. In 1924 boot-legging becomes more violent with Tommy guns. Eddie and George mug two guards and steal from a government warehouse with trucks. George kills their war sergeant (Joe Sawyer). Jean sings "It Had to Be You." Panama tells Lloyd that Jean is his kind, like Eddie and her. George warns Eddie about Jean and Lloyd. Jean thanks Eddie for the radio. Jean tells Lloyd she can't hurt Eddie. Brown comes in, and Eddie knocks him out. Lloyd tells Eddie he quit, and Eddie buys the club. Eddie finds Danny's body left on the curb. Eddie goes after Brown, but George refuses and calls Brown to warn him. Brown prepares the restaurant; but in the shoot-out Eddie kills Brown. Eddie warns George, and Panama tells Eddie that Jean quit and is in love with Lloyd. Eddie socks Lloyd and apologizes.
When the stocks crash, Eddie sells his cabs to George for $200,000. Boot-legging does badly, and Eddie is arrested. In 1933 Prohibition is repealed. Eddie drives a cab and picks up Jean, who says that Lloyd is working for the D. A. Eddie warns Lloyd about George. Two of George's men threaten Jean that Lloyd better not accuse George. Dismal Eddie drinks with Panama. Jean comes in and asks Eddie for help. He says no but calls on George and asks him to lay off Lloyd. George refuses, and Eddie shoots him and two others but is shot fleeing, dying on the steps of a church in Panama's arms.
This drama reflects the violence that resulted from
the attempt to ban alcohol as men trained to use guns in the war
turned to crime.