Based on Arthur Miller's play, a son learns that his father covered up his crime of selling defective parts during the war.
Chris Keller (Burt Lancaster) tells his father Joe Keller (Edward G. Robinson) that his brother Larry must be dead, and he wants to marry his girl Ann. Chris brings Ann Deever (Louisa Horton) for a visit, but his mother Kate Keller (Mady Christians) still hopes that Larry will come back. Joe takes Kate, Chris, and Ann out to dinner. A drunk woman, whose husband was killed in the war, calls Joe a murderer. Chris says that Ann has not been writing to her father in prison because he murdered 21 pilots. Joe defends him, but Chris says he shouldn't have shipped the defective parts.
Ann tells Chris she is going to leave; but he says he loves her, and they kiss. Ann gets a call from her brother George, who visited their father. Joe runs his business, and Chris says that Ann will be his wife. Joe wishes her well. Kate is worried that George is coming to make trouble. Sue Bayliss tells Ann that Joe outsmarted her father, but Chris says that Joe is not guilty. George Deever (Howard Duff) arrives, and Joe makes Sue leave. George tells Ann not to marry Chris because Joe knew about the cylinders. Kate welcomes George with a hug and persuades him to stay for dinner. Joe asks George about his dad, and George says he is not well. Joe says he will give him a job, but George says his father hates Joe.
At dinner Joe says he was never sick; but George says he claimed to be sick when the defective parts were shipped. George tells Ann they are leaving. Kate tells Chris that Larry cannot be dead. Chris suspects Joe lied but tells George never to come back. Ann decides to leave.
Chris visits Herbert Deever (Frank Conroy) in prison and says that Ann broke off the engagement. Chris asks Herbert if Joe is guilty, and Herbert tells what happened.
Herbert learns that the cylinders are defective and asks Joe what to do. Joe says to ship them, but Herbert says it is a crime. Herbert calls Joe at home, and Joe says he will take full responsibility. So Herbert has them shipped.
Herbert says that Joe lied in court. Ann comes to Kate and says she wants to marry Chris. Ann says that Larry is dead and shows her his last letter. Kate reads it and breaks down, crying. Chris asks Joe if he knew the parts were defective. Joe says he would have lost his business. Chris hits Joe and leaves.
Kate tells Dr. Bayliss that Joe cried. Chris meets Ann and says that Joe is guilty and must understand. Chris comes home and reads Larry's letter to Joe. Larry was ashamed of his father and wrote he would not come back. Joe says a man can be defective too, and he realizes they were all his sons. Chris tells Kate they are responsible. They hear a shot, and Kate tells Chris and Ann that Joe and Larry are dead and that they must live.
This modern tragedy explores the responsibility people
have for their business when it affects other people's lives,
and it symbolizes that the American dream of making money for
one's family may be defective if an evil foreign policy causes
others to suffer and die.