Based on Hemingway’s novel, a man in financial difficulty with a family and a boat allows himself to be hired by criminals.
Harry Morgan (John Garfield) uses his deposit to put gas in his boat. His wife Lucy Morgan (Phyllis Thaxter) wants him to sell it. Harry takes Hannagan (Ralph Dumke) and Leona Charles (Patricia Neal) fishing and to Mexico. Harry tells seductive Leona he is married. Hannagan owes him $830, but the next day Leona tells Harry that Hannagan left on a plane. F. R. Duncan (Wallace Ford) takes Harry to Mr. Sing (Victor Sen Yung), who offers him $1,600 to smuggle eight Chinese into the USA. Duncan takes the $300 advance as his commission.
Harry won’t let his mate Wesley Parke (Juano Hernandez) go back and gives him money for a bus. He gets rid of broke Leona with money too. Wesley and Leona stow away. They pick up the Chinese, but Harry gets only $300. Mr. Sing pulls out a gun. Harry fights him, and Mr. Sing is killed. Harry drops off the Chinese and gives their money back. Officer Rogers (Edmon Ryan) takes Harry’s boat. Harry brings presents for his two daughters, but he quarrels with Lucy. In a bar Harry drinks, insults Duncan, and talks with Leona. Lucy comes in, chats with Leona, and takes drunk Harry home. He tells her he killed a man in self-defense.
Rogers tells Harry that Duncan filed to get his boat back. Lucy got her hair dyed blonde, and Harry says he likes it. Harry owes money on his boat and gets two weeks to pay. Lucy takes a job sewing at home, and desperate Harry goes to Duncan. Harry asks Danny (Guy Thomajan) for $1,000 to go fifty miles out. At a bar Harry tells Leona he is interested. Duncan tells Harry they are robbers. Harry says they’ll have to hold a gun on him, and he takes the money from Duncan. Harry calls on Leona and kisses her, but he changes his mind and leaves.
Harry wakes late and tells Lucy he is selling the boat. He loads a pistol, and she asks him not to go. Danny and his men rob the race track and leave behind Duncan, who is shot by police. At the boat Harry tries to send Wesley away, but Danny arrives and shoots him. His gang goes in the boat with Harry, who throws a rifle overboard with Wesley’s body. Harry gets his guns and starts shooting. He kills them but is badly wounded. He stops the engine and is rescued by the Coast Guard. Rogers asks Lucy to persuade Harry to let them amputate his arm. She cries, and Harry is taken on a stretcher to an ambulance.
Whereas the To Have and Have Not version reflected World War II issues, this adaptation deals with financial concerns in the post-war era. Garfield helped develop the role of the African-American Wesley and was later blacklisted for being too liberal. Hemingway’s story is exciting but in its violence is nearly nihilistic.