Adapted from Irwin Shaw's play, The Gentle People, a racketeer terrorizes two fishermen and romances the daughter of one.
Harold Goff (John Garfield) sets fire to a small boat and buys a bourbon at a bar from Eddie (Leo Gorcey). Caroline (Odette Myrtil) tells chef Olaf Knudsen (John Qualen) she wants to marry him. While Eddie goes to see the fire, Goff asks Olaf and Jonah Goodwin (Thomas Mitchell) about their boat. Stella Goodwin (Ida Lupino) gets angry at George (Eddie Albert) and runs out; but George tells her they will be happy when they are married. Jonah and Olaf fish from their boat and plan to buy a larger one. Stella gets a cigarette from her father Jonah and a light from Goff, who asks her out. Goff asks Jonah and Olaf for $5 a week to protect their boat. When Jonah refuses, Goff breaks his fishing pole. Florence Goodwin (Aline MacMahon) goes to bed and complains that Stella does not confide in her. Jonah learns that Stella was not out with George. Goff demands money and hits Olaf. He and Jonah sign a loan agreement without getting the loan but owe interest.
Goff buys Stella perfume for $5. Jonah says Stella lied about going out with Goff. Jonah says Goff is a racketeer and offers her his $190 to go to Cuba. Goff comes in, and Stella stops him from fighting George. Goff takes Stella to the Cuba Room, and she tells him she won't use her father's $190. Goff asks her to go to Cuba with him. At 5 a.m. Stella tells George to go home. Goff demands $190 from Jonah and Olaf. Jonah calls policeman Magruder (Robert Homans) and accuses Goff. In court Goff shows the loan agreement, and the case is dismissed.
Goff beats Jonah with a rubber hose. Jonah finds Stella packing to go to Cuba with Goff. Jonah goes to a steam room and plots with Olaf. At the dock Jonah gives Goff the $190. George tries to stop Goff, who knocks him down. Goff goes in the boat with Jonah and Olaf, who can't bring himself to kill Goff. They struggle, and Goff drowns.
Jonah buys a paper but finds no news of Goff. Stella is taken by men to identify Goff's corpse, and she is questioned along with George. Olaf and Jonah find Goff's wallet with the $190 and are questioned at the dock and searched; but the wallet is not found. Stella cries in her father's arms. Jonah shows Olaf the wallet in the water and invites Stella on a fishing trip.
Hollywood censors forced the final murder to be changed
to a providential accident in self-defense; but even the policeman
connives at the eradication of the racketeer. The drama shows
a cruel world in which force often gets its way but indicates
that there is hope for the gentle people.