Based on Edwin Gilbert's play, a jazz band meets a fleeing criminal and plays in his roadhouse, but his ex-girlfriend makes the band's leader go astray.
Nickie (Elia Kazan) tells piano-player Jigger Pine (Richard Whorf) he wants to play clarinet. Jigger socks a man and the boss. Jigger, Nickie, and drummer Peppi (Billy Halop) are arrested. In jail Jigger finds bass player Pete (Peter Whitney). Nickie and Peppi urge Jigger to form a band. Blacks in jail sing "The Blues in the Night." In a pool hall trumpet-player Leo Powell (Jack Carson) owes money and is married to Character Powell (Priscilla Lane). Jigger has Nickie loan Leo $4 to get his horn back. As they eat and listen to a black band, Leo shows he can play.
They travel and play swing. Character sings, and Jigger urges her to tell Leo she is pregnant. Del Davis (Lloyd Nolan) hops into their boxcar and uses a gun to rob them; but they don't turn him in. They go to an empty roadhouse and sing "Here We Go Again." Del has Sam (Howard Da Silva) give them food. Kay Grant (Betty Field) quarrels with Del, who tells Sam he will fix up the place and slaps him. Del complains to Kay that he did the ten years. Brad (Wallace Ford) tells Kay that Leo likes her. Character sings "This Time the Dream's on Me." Brad borrows $6 from Jigger, and Leo loses $16 on craps. Jigger warns Kay to stay away from Leo. Kay sings. Character keeps Leo from hitting Jigger, and Leo learns she is going to have a kid. Leo lets Pete hit him. Sam tells Kay they could turn in Del and have more money. Jigger protects Brad from Del, and Kay runs after Jigger. A doctor tells Character she must stop singing. Jigger suggests Kay and tries to train her; but she gives up, and Jiggers says he loves her. Brad tells Jigger his sad story and warns him about Kay. Del won't let Kay gamble, and she asks him to take her back. She warns Del about Sam, and Del tells Sam to leave. Jigger packs as the band mocks his future.
Jigger plays with a big band. Character tells Kay they came for Jigger. At 5 a.m. Kay finds Jigger in her room, and he says he quit. Kay says she is leaving him because she always loved Del. Down and out, Jigger begs for a drink. Nickie, Leo, Peppi, and Pete buy Jigger a meal, but Jigger forgot the blues song and collapses. Jigger is delirious in a hospital, but he recovers and can play again. Jigger sees Kay in the rain. Del tells Kay to stay away, but she says she will get him. Jiggers defends Kay from Del; but she gets the gun and kills Del. His band won't let Jiggers leave like Brad, who takes Kay in Del's car. He drives fast and crashes. In the final scene the band rides in a boxcar.
This melodrama hints how whites learned jazz from blacks
and exploited it. The theme is that a bad woman in love with a
bad man, who spurns her, can ruin the lives of others.