Adapted from Willard Motley's novel, a lawyer tries to help a poor kid from skid row who has been charged with killing a policeman.
After a robbery a policeman is shot to death. Young Nick Romano (John Derek) is arrested and questioned. He asks to call a lawyer and calls Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart), who declines his case. Morton decides to talk to Nick, who has a record but says he is innocent. Morton questions his friends Sunshine (David Roberts) and Butch (Dewey Martin) who back up his alibi. Morton tells the jury how he let another lawyer botch the case of Nick's father, who died in prison.
Nick and two other boys sell stolen watches to a fence for $7, and they are sent to reform school. Morton describes the harsh punishment. Morton visits angry Nick and advises him to get over it, as he did. Nick meets Emma (Allene Roberts) in a store, takes her out, gives her a bracelet, and kisses her. He tells her he is no good.
Nick is caught stealing. Social worker Adele (Susan Perry) dances with Morton and asks him to help Nick. Morton takes him fishing; but Nick overhears a man who suspects him, and he steals $100 from Nick. Morton sees Nick on the street and takes his money back. Nick tells Emma that he is mixed up. He goes to Morton, apologizes, and pays back the rest. He tells Morton he is getting married.
Morton tells the jury that Nick got jobs but lost them. Nick loses his money gambling and after drinking comes home late. He tells Emma that he is going away. She is thinking of the coming baby but puts her head in a gas oven. Nick, Butch, and another man rob a cashier with a gun. Nick makes them stop to get Emma, but she has killed herself.
In the trial the bartender identifies Nick, but Morton discredits his memory. Morton also exposes Kid Fingers (Jimmy Conlin) as a panhandler with a new suit. Morton suggests that he and Zinsky were paid by the prosecutor. Juan Rodriguez (Pepe Hern) says he does not remember and admits he was threatened with deportation. District attorney Kerman (George Macready) objects and dismisses him. The judge (Barry Kelley) calls Kerman and Morton into his chambers and warns them. Rodriguez admits that he lied to the grand jury. Butch says that he was with Nick and Sunshine. Then Sunshine says that Nick could not have done it because he was with him.
Nick testifies that he is innocent. Kerman badgers Nick and asks him if his wife committed suicide because of him. Nick gets upset and admits he killed the cop. He changes his plea to guilty.
At the sentencing Morton pleads that Nick was reared in poverty with bad influences. He blames society and asks the court for mercy. The judge sentences Nick to death. In jail Morton tells Nick that he will try to help others like him.
This drama explores how poor youths from broken homes
can turn to crime and how punishments for those crimes can make
them even worse. The lawyer worked his way out of poverty and
feels an obligation to help others to do so too.