Joseph Hayes adapted his own novel and play about three fugitives who hold a family hostage for money.
At breakfast little Ralphie Hilliard (Richard Eyer) tells his father Dan C. Hilliard (Fredric March) his name is Ralph, and he leaves for school. His mother Ellie Hilliard (Martha Scott) notes he thinks he is too old to kiss a man anymore. Dan wonders if his daughter Cindy Hilliard (Mary Murphy) wants to get married. She says she does, but he has not asked her yet. She leaves.
Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard (Arthur Kennedy) comes in late and learns that the Griffin brothers have escaped from prison. Lt. Fredericks (Ray Teal) tells Bard they have set up roadblocks, but Bard says Griffin will come back to Indianapolis.
Ellie answers the door, and Glenn Griffin (Humphrey Bogart) comes in and draws a pistol. Sam Kobish (Robert Middleton) is already inside, and Glenn sends him upstairs. Hal Griffin (Dewey Martin) is also inside, and he asks about the car. Hal goes out and drives the car into the garage and closes the garage door. Kobish says no one else is home but Ellie. He wants a drink, but Glenn says no.
FBI agent Carson (Whit Bissell) tells Bard that the Griffins beat up a farmer and stole his car. Carson says Bard knows Griffin better than anyone, and he yields to Bard’s taking charge. Bard puts out a description of the car to get leads.
Glenn got what little cash they have in the house and looks at their financial records. He hands a necklace to Kobish. Glenn asks Ellie if she has plans to go out tonight. He asks her if they have a hidden gun and warns Kobish may find it. Ellie says where a gun is, and Glenn sends Hal to get it. Glenn asks her if she can talk on the phone without crying and gives her a number in Pittsburgh to call. Glenn asks his “doll” Helen to come there right away and gives her the address.
Dan drives Cindy home. She opens the garage door and sees the strange car. They walk in the house, and Glenn, holding his gun to Ellie’s head, tells them to close the door. Glenn warns and threatens them. Dan asks, “How long?” Glenn says midnight. Little Ralphie comes in. Glenn sends Kobish out in the back and Ralphie upstairs with Cindy. Glenn has Hal show Dan his pistol. Glenn orders Ellie to cook dinner. Ralphie runs in asking for his toy. Kobish demands his toy airplane. When Ralphie breaks it, Kobish picks up Ralphie; Dan hits Kobish in the stomach, but Glenn with his gun stops them both. Ellie runs in, and Glenn orders her to take the kid back to the kitchen.
At night Bard calls Carson, who tells him they are following Griffin’s girl. In the house Ellie and Cindy pick up dishes after dinner. Dan tells Ralphie he lost his temper and will not do it again. Dan warns Ralphie the guns have real bullets, and he admits he is afraid. The phone rings, and Glenn tells Ellie to answer it. Hal listens upstairs and says her boyfriend Chuck is coming over despite her effort to stop him. Glenn sends Dan out to put gas in his car. He warns Dan that if the cops come, he will kill his children and wife. Glenn asks him to get bourbon and newspapers too. Dan goes out, drives off, and has the gas tank filled.
Chuck Wright (Gig Young) arrives, and Cindy comes out of the house and goes with him in his car. Dan backs his car into the driveway and brings in two bottles and a newspaper. Glenn breaks one bottle so that they won’t get drunk. Kobish opens the other bottle and starts drinking from it. Hal says Glenn did not teach him how to live in a house like that. Upstairs Ellie tells Dan the men must have a plan. Ralphie asks his father not to let them take him along. Dan says he won’t let them.
Cindy says goodnight to Chuck, who wants to talk with her father. She says no and kisses him. She goes in the door, and Chuck leaves. Kobish starts to corner Cindy, but Hal intervenes with his gun. Glenn orders Kobish to sleep it off. Glenn searches Cindy and follows Kobish outside, where he knocks him out with his gun. Inside Hal holds a gun on Dan, and Cindy falls to the floor. She bites Hal’s hand, and Dan grabs Hal from behind. He manages to get the gun and push Hal outside and close the door. He tells them to lock all the doors. Dan tries to get a telephone operator, but Ellie says, “Don’t.” Dan looks out the back door and sees Glenn holding Ralphie. Dan tosses his gun on the ground, and Glenn comes back inside. He hits Dan in the back of his head with his gun, knocking him out. Glenn tells Hal to bring Kobish inside.
Carson tells Bard that the police lost Helen in Columbus. Bard asks for all the calls from Columbus to Indianapolis.
At 1 a.m. in the bedroom Ellie puts a towel on Dan’s head and tells him not to do anything like that again. The phone rings; Ellie answers it, and Glenn accepts the collect call. He tells her to mail him something to that address. He tells Hal she called from Circleville.
In the morning Glenn and Ralphie are eating breakfast while others watch. Dan asks how much longer. Glenn says Ralphie will miss school. Ellie condemns Glenn and slaps him. Dan refuses to leave the house. Ellie says that Dan and Cindy will go. A boy outside calls for Ralphie, but Dan says he hurt his leg and is not coming. Glenn tells Dan to get the dough and come back. Dan warns Glenn that he will kill him if something goes wrong. Dan leaves with Cindy. In the car Cindy asks if they should go to the police. Dan says he will not gamble with their lives. He tells Cindy not to come home that night.
Glenn sees a truck arrive and tells Hal to get Ellie. Glenn orders Ellie to pay the garbage man when he comes to the door. Glenn and Kobish see the man open the garage door to get a box, and he notices the strange car. Glenn hands Kobish his gun, and Kobish gets in the man’s truck as he drives away.
Dan arrives in his office and goes through his mail. He orders his secretary not to open his mail. He begins writing a letter to the police. Outside a hotel he hands the letter to a bellboy and pays him to take it to the police station.
Kobish makes the garbage man drive out into the country. The man says he won’t say anything. He jumps out and tries to run, but Kobish shoots him twice. A truck stops and finds the body.
Chuck comes to see Dan at his office. Dan gets a call from Kobish, who tells him to come and get him at a golf course. Dan says he will be there in an hour. Dan checks the mail and leaves.
Bard investigates the murdered man and says there is no other apparent motive. Dan drives Kobish back to the house and sends kids away. He comes in and sees Ellie is talking with Ralphie’s teacher. Dan says Kobish is an old friend of his. Dan looks at Ralphie’s composition and does not give it back to her. She leaves, and Glenn commends Dan’s action. Dan says it came in the mail and hands money to Glenn, who says it is not enough. Hal wants to leave. Kobish refuses to give the gun back to Glenn. Dan tells Glenn he is not to take anyone with them. Glenn says they will only take him. Glenn tells Hal he can take the girl, but Hal refuses to give his gun to Glenn.
Carson shows Dan’s note to Bard that warns them not to endanger the people held by the three fugitives. The sheriff wants to close in, but Bard wants to protect the family.
Chuck brings Cindy home, and he sees someone at the window. Hal says he drove back and looked. Hal tells Dan he is leaving because they are accessories to Kobish’s murder. Dan advises against Hal leaving. Hal insists on leaving but will not take a car. Glenn gives him a little money, and he leaves. Glenn is angry and breaks some things.
Hal is in a man’s car, and he hears the news about them on the radio. He orders the man to stop the car and get out. He drives off and stops at a diner. He goes into a phone booth. When a cop comes to him, he shoots him and runs out and is run over by a truck.
Dan gets a call that his special delivery package has arrived. Glenn tells him to go get it. Dan tells Ellie he will have to go with them. He tells her to wait four hours and then call the police. They embrace. Ralphie tells Dan that he wants to go when they take him. Dan says no and leaves.
Bard and Carson investigate the murder of the policeman. Chuck tells Bard he is an attorney. Bard shows him the newspaper and suspects that Chuck knows something. Bard demands to know his girl’s address, but Chuck refuses. Carson gets a call that Hal had a gun registered to Dan Hilliard. Bard gets the address and says they are moving in. Chuck offers to help, but Bard tells him not to say anything. Chuck calls, and Cindy answers. Glenn is listening. Chuck says he is coming over. Glenn threatens them.
Dan picks up the package. Chuck arrives at the house and toots his horn. Ellie tells Cindy to go out to him, but she refuses. Chuck comes to the door. After ringing he opens the door and looks in. Cindy goes to him, and he takes her away with him in his car. Chuck parks and tells her he is glad she is safe. They see police arriving in the neighborhood, forming a blockade. Dan gets out of a cab near his house, and an undercover officer stops him and takes him to a neighbor’s house, where he sees Cindy and Chuck. Dan tells Bard they have one gun with three bullets. Dan says he has several thousand dollars in his pocket, and they won’t come out until they get it. Bard’s boss Masters (Ray Collins) says he is not going back; but Carson over-rules him and asks Dan if he wants to take a gun. Dan takes the bullets out, and Carson says he has ten minutes. Dan walks to the house, noticing policemen hiding with guns. He enters the front door, and Kobish demands the money. Dan says he will give it to them in the car. Glenn searches him and finds the gun. Glenn takes the money and gives some to Kobish. While Glenn is kicking in the bedroom door, Dan tells Kobish he heard something, and he opens the curtains. He slams the door on Kobish’s arm, causing him to drop the gun. Dan picks up the gun. Kobish runs outside and is shot by the police. Dan tells Ellie to run out the back. Glenn is holding Ralphie, and Dan tells him to release the boy. Glenn holds the gun at his head. Dan tells Ralphie to run, and Glenn tries to shoot. Dan holds the loaded gun on Glenn and tells him his brother is dead. Dan orders Glenn to get out of his house. Glenn starts to leave, and Dan pushes him down the stairs. The police announce they are waiting for Griffin. Bard orders Griffin to come out. Glenn opens the front door, puts his hands behind his head, and comes out. He throws his gun at the search light and ducks. The police fire numerous bullets that kill him. Many people converge on the body. Dan comes out and embraces Ralphie, Cindy, and Ellie. Dan waves to Chuck to come in the house too.
This tense crime drama shows how guns can be used by desperate men to control and terrorize people. The family manages to act intelligently in order to preserve their own safety by cooperating and not calling in the police. Their patience pays off, and the criminals bring on their own destruction without harming the family. A happy suburban family reflects a current life-style that is much happier than the miserable life of the criminals.