A racketeering gambler on parole falls in love with the daughter of his prosecutor and manipulates her so he can open his new dog track.
Cab driver Johnny Eager (Robert Taylor) reports to parole officer Verne (Henry O'Neill). Lisbeth Bardy (Lana Turner) and Judy Sanford are studying sociology. Johnny is the boss of gamblers, and Lew Rankin (Barry Nelson) complains. Johnny sends Marco (Charles Dingle) to arrange a meeting with Halligan. Verne with Lisbeth and Judy visits the family where Johnny claims to be living. Lisbeth postpones a date with fiancé Jimmy Courtney (Robert Sterling). Johnny pays Julio (Paul Stewart) for beating up a man. Drunk Jeff Hartnett (Van Heflin) says he is Johnny's Boswell. Garnet (Patricia Dane) wants attention from Johnny, who hits Tony and tells him to send money in to Jeff. Lisbeth is there and says she won't report Johnny. He kisses her and takes her home, meeting Jimmy and John Benson Farrell (Edward Arnold), who is her stepfather and was Johnny's prosecutor.
In the morning Johnny tells Garnet to go to Florida. Jeff says he is Johnny's only friend. Farrell orders Johnny to stay away from Lisbeth and threatens to frame him. In Johnny's cab Marco warns him. At his apartment Johnny tells Lisbeth he loves her even though she is most dangerous. Julio comes in with a gun. Johnny fights him, and Lisbeth shoots Julio. After they leave, Julio jumps up and tells Jeff he is a good actor. Johnny and Jeff go to Bill Halligan (Cy Kendall), who did not invite him for poker. Johnny drinks and sneaks out the window to go with Lew to see that a factory is shut down. Lew pulls a gun, but Johnny knocks him out and crashes his car off a bridge. Johnny sneaks back to the poker game, where they learn that Lew died. Johnny tells Halligan he is opening the dog track but is giving him only 10%.
Farrell goes to Johnny, who says he is covering up for Lisbeth. Johnny tells Farrell to lift the injunction on the track. Marco tells Johnny they made $53,000 on five races. Johnny sends Julio to pay Halligan $5,300 and sees Verne in a betting line. Johnny is glad to see Mae Blythe (Glenda Farrell), who married a cop and asks a favor; but Johnny won't help. Jimmy tells Johnny that Lisbeth is in bad shape and offers him $500,000 to go away with her. Jeff tells Johnny he does not understand what is unselfish, and Johnny hits him. Jeff tells Johnny he almost turned him in. Johnny goes to see Lisbeth, and she tells Johnny she wants to confess after his parole ends. He says he really loves her and explains how he set it up; she is happy but doesn't believe him. Marco tells Johnny that Julio is working for Halligan, who wants 50%. Johnny goes to Julio, who is drunk. Halligan comes in and stops them from leaving. Johnny and Halligan make a deal. Johnny buys a coat and calls Jimmy, who brings Lisbeth. Johnny talks of splitting up and shows her Julio. She gets upset, and Johnny socks her. Johnny tells Jimmy to take Lisbeth out of his life. Julio and Halligan shoot at Johnny, and he shoots them. A cop shoots Johnny. Jeff comes back, and Johnny dies in his arms.
This gangster drama is spiked with literary allusions
from alcoholic Jeff, who tries to act as Johnny's conscience to
no avail as his friend's violent and selfish life is soon shortened.