Adapted from a novel by William P. McGivern and directed by Robert Wise, three desperate men plan a bank robbery, but one of them is prejudiced against the Negro.
Earle Slater (Robert Ryan) walks down a street in winter and picks up a little black girl and puts her down. He goes into a hotel and asks the clerk for David Burke. He goes up the elevator run by a black man he does not speak to. Earle is welcomed by Dave Burke (Ed Begley) who says they need to talk. Dave fixes drinks, and they toast. Earle knows Dave was on the New York police force until they needed a patsy, and Earle has been in prison twice for assault with a deadly and manslaughter. Earle shouts angrily and starts to leave. Dave offers him the chance to pick up $50,000 for himself. Dave answers the phone and hangs up. Earle asks what he has to do, and Dave says he could take it from a bank. Dave says it is one big job, and then they can retire.
In a sports car Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) parks and gives some children a little money. He goes in the elevator and jokes with the elevator man. Dave is glad to see Johnny and tells his German shepherd to leave him alone. Johnny asks about the job and says he owes more than $6,000 now. He has been gambling. Dave tells him about $50,000. Johnny says he has been paying $100 a week interest. Johnny is not interested in a bank job and decides to leave. Dave asks to go with him and makes his dog stay as they go out.
Johnny drives Dave who says his ex-wife is getting alimony from him. He drops off Dave, who promises Johnny $7,500 to pay off his debt. Johnny hopes to win it on a horse. Dave walks to a park and talks to Coco (Richard Bright) on a bench. Dave talks to Bacco (Will Kulava) who is feeding the birds. Bacco admits he is sometimes outside the law, and Dave says that Ingram owes him money.
Dave gets out of his car and looks at apartment mailboxes. Earle sees him from a window and puts on a tie. Lorry (Shelley Winters) wakes up in bed and asks what time it is. Earle says it is 7:30 and that Dave is there. She asks if he trusts Burke. She asks him to come back to bed, and he says he is off to make his fortune. She says Burke is a friend of Lester who is in jail. She wants to know what it is about, and he says he will tell her later. She asks if he has enough money. He says he has $15, and she persuades him to take some more which he gets from her purse. He embraces her, and she tells him not to hurry to take this deal. He says he has to make it on his own. She says they have each other, and he says she will not junk him like an old car. He tells her not to worry because he will not do it if it is not all right. He goes out.
Dave and Earle drive on an expressway to Melton. At six it is dark, and they look out windows. Dave says to watch the waiter who turns a corner, and they move to the other windows. Dave says the side door is the key to the job. The bank is loaded with cash on Thursday nights. Dave knows the employees and explains what they do. He says Earle could take it with a border pistol. Earle says what is wrong is that the third man is a “nigger.”
Johnny is singing and playing a xylophone in a restaurant. He walks off and talks with Annie (Mae Barnes). She tells him to send back the key if he wants to leave her; but he kisses her, and she goes. Johnny tells Coco that Bacco will get his money. A black man loans Johnny a small pistol. Johnny knocks on a door and asks to talk with Ed who shows him pearls that are for his daughter. Johnny says Bacco called him, and Ed asks what he owes. Bacco comes in with Coco and another man. He sits behind the desk and asks Johnny for all his money by tomorrow night. Johnny asks Ed for help, but he says Johnny already owes him $2,000. Johnny says he won’t be able to get it that soon. The men assault him, and Johnny points the gun from inside his coat pocket. Bacco threatens, and Johnny pulls out the gun; but the men get it away from him. Bacco threatens to kill him.
A black woman is singing “All Men Are Evil.” Johnny talks to her while she is singing and plays the xylophone. She gets upset and stops singing. She says he is in big trouble.
Ed in his car drops off Earle who says he would not trust himself on a deal with a colored boy. Dave says okay and drives off.
Johnny calls on his ex-wife Ruth Ingram (Kim Hamilton) and picks up his daughter Edie. Ruth introduces Johnny to a meeting of the PPA steering committee. He leaves with Edie after kissing Ruth gently.
Johnny takes Edie to a park, and she rides on a carousel. He gives her another ticket and talks to two of Bacco’s men. He threatens them and Bacco not to do anything to his wife or baby. He threatens to go to the cops and walks over to an officer as the men leave quickly. He asks the policeman for directions. Edie is eating by an ice rink, and Johnny calls Dave on the phone. He agrees to the deal, but he needs $7,500 to pay off Bacco. Dave says he will call back in fifteen minutes.
Dave calls Bacco who says Johnny got rough. Dave says he will give him the money in two weeks but learns that Johnny pulled a gun.
Earle reads a note from Lorry asking him to baby-sit. He turns on the shower, takes off his shirt, and answers the door. Helen (Gloria Grahame) asks if an orgy is going on in there. She asks if she can flirt with him, and she needs a babysitter. She has to meet Sam’s boss. He tells her to take the baby and closes the door.
Johnny waits to use a pay phone and calls Burke. Johnny tells him that his wife and kid have been threatened. He says he will see him tonight and mentions suicide. He finds his balloon popped.
Earle carries clothes from a dry cleaner and goes into a bar. He orders a beer and a shot. A youth bumps him and apologizes. Earle wipes off his clothes and drinks another shot. A soldier is holding a woman from behind. Earle tells her to throw him the other way. The soldier quarrels with him as Earle puts on his coat. Earle refuses to fight him, but the soldier does not let the bartender intervene. Earle agrees, blocks a punch, and hits the soldier in the belly, causing him much pain as he collapses. Earle goes out.
Earle walks into the apartment and hands the clothes to Lorry. She says Helen said he insulted her. She has to rush downtown and says she is getting promoted to manager by her boss. She suggests she could stay home, but he says she can go out. She asks if he will be there when she comes home. He asks where else he could go. She says they are doing fine, and she will be making more money. She asks if she looks good, and he tells her to go. She knew he was going to be trouble when she fell in love with him. She cares only about one thing; but he asks what will happen when he gets old. She says he is old now and tells him to go to hell as she leaves. Earle calls Dave again.
Ruth comes home and finds Johnny asleep on the bed next to Edie. He wakes up and kisses her. He puts on his shoes and coat, and she tells him not to do that. He says he was dreaming. He gives her some money for Edie and tries to embrace her, but she avoids it. He asks if he could come back, but she says it would not be good for Edie. He says she is tough, but she says she cannot change him. He tells her to wise up because it is their world. Edie comes in, and Johnny picks her up and says he loves her mommy. He tells her to be good and hugs her. Ruth embraces Edie as he leaves.
Helen knocks on the door, and Earle persuades her to come in by saying he will kiss, make up, and say he is sorry. She says her kid is sleeping upstairs. He says he has to go by eleven. He brings her a drink and invites her in to visit. She leaves the door open and says she has to listen for the baby. She asks if he would leave her alone like that. She asks if he can hear her kid from there, and he says he can. She asks him how it felt when he killed that man and says she is sorry. He says he enjoyed it, but it scared him. He hated that man. She asks what he did to him. He says he insulted him. She turns, and he pulls off the belt from her robe, exposing her underwear. He closes the door and comes back to her. She kisses him and says, “Just this once.”
Dave is telling Johnny about the job, and Earle comes in. Dave introduces them, and Earle ignores Johnny. Dave and Earle say they need to figure out the chain. Dave asks Johnny, but he does not know. Dave says he got a car that cannot be traced, and Earle says they have two shotguns too. Johnny says it sounds like D-Day. Earle tells Johnny he only has to carry the sandwiches, and Johnny feels insulted by his prejudice. Dave gives Earle a lecture about taking care of each other. Earle agrees on that for one roll of the dice. Johnny suggests a plan for the chain. If the box with the coffee is big enough, the guard will have to remove the chain. Dave believes that will work.
Earle returns to the apartment, and Lorry tells him she has been crying. He sits on the bed and kisses her. She kisses him back, and he says he spoils everything. She disagrees with that. She understands why he wants to have his own money. She begs him not to leave her, and he holds her and tells how he left so many things. He stands up and says he is getting too old to take things slowly. She asks if it is every easy, and he says it is when he gets angry. Now he is going to stick with it.
On a bus Johnny looks out the window.
Earle drives his car and takes the road to Melton. He accelerates to more than 100 miles per hour. He parks in the country by men who are hunting. He is dressed as a hunter and gets a shotgun and pack.
Johnny is on the bus to Melton.
Earle has his car filled up with gas and looks at a map. The gas station attendant sees a new motor and asks if he can go 150. Earle angrily closes the hood and tells him he just wants gas. Earle picks up Dave who carries a shotgun. Dave says he blows the whistle. From the bus Johnny sees Earle driving as the bus passes them. Dave questions Earle, who tells him not to worry. He tells how the kid saw the motor. Dave hopes the chain bit works, and Earle gets angry. He is worried about Johnny.
The bus stops, and Johnny gets out and checks his watch. Two cars have an accident, and a policeman tells Johnny to stay and asks if he saw the accident. Johnny says no but is asked for his name and address. Dave and Earle watch and are worried. Johnny walks down the street, and Earle’s car turns in front of the bank. He drives to a muddy area and stops. Johnny joins them. Earle gets angry at Johnny for showing his wallet, but Johnny says nothing was in it. Dave asks Johnny to gamble on this. Earle is hostile. Dave says it is now or never, and Johnny says okay. Earle and Johnny warn each other. Earle gets in the car and takes off. Dave tells Johnny not to worry about Slater. Dave walks off, and Johnny walks to the river and sits down.
Dave looks at a statue and reads the inscription urging action. He looks down and sees Johnny below. Johnny notices a doll in the water and sees Dave on the hill.
By his car Earle loads his shotgun. He sees a rabbit, aims, but does not shoot until it runs away.
Dave looks at the river. The street lights come on, and the clock tolls six. Dave walks on the sidewalk. Earle stops his car as a train passes. Johnny waits by a building. Dave sees kids in a drugstore, and one mentions the motor he saw in a beat-up station-wagon.
Earle in the car picks up Johnny who asks about the carton and sees it in the back seat.
A woman leaves two boys outside by Dave, and they pretend to shoot each other.
The car parks by the back door of the bank. Johnny puts on a hat as a waiter and asks Earle for the key. Earle walks away as Johnny stays in the car. Dave sees Earle from across the street, and Earle sees Dave. A man asks Dave if he got anything. As a waiter comes out, Dave bumps him, causing him to drop his carton of coffees. Earle mails the letters and walks away. Johnny puts on dark glasses and carries the carton as Dave walks toward him. Johnny knocks on the door as Dave and Earle watch nearby. The guard opens a window door, sees the waiter and tries to bring the carton in with the chain on. He says they are using bigger boxes and removes the chain. Johnny, Earle, and Dave rush in and take the guard hostage. They stop and put masks over their faces. Earle with a gun pushes the guard forward to a room with people. Earle orders them not to move. Earles pushes the guard down on the floor and knocks another man down. Dave and Johnny pick up the money on the table and put it in their bags.
Outside the waiter is carrying the coffee. He knocks on the door, and inside they hear the waiter. Earle opens the door and knocks out the waiter with his gun. Johnny asks for the key, but Earle gives it to Dave.
Outside a guard talks to police in a car. They see Dave, and the policeman summons him and goes over to Dave who walks toward him. Earle opens the door as the burglar alarm goes off. Earle shoots at the policeman as Dave shoots too; the policeman shoots at Dave. Earle and Johnny run to the car, but Johnny says Dave has the key. Earle comes back to the corner and calls to Dave. He tries to come to them and is shot down by the policeman. Earle uses the shotgun and shoots at the policeman behind a car. Earle asks Burke to throw the keys, but he crawls. He takes the keys from his pocket and holds them out, but another bullet hits him. Johnny sees the keys. Earle says they should clear out. A policeman tells Dave to drop the gun, and Dave shoots himself in the head. Johnny fights with Earle who runs off. Johnny shoots at Earle who turns and shoots back. Earle runs away, and Johnny follows him. Three policemen walk slowly.
Earle climbs over a fence and shoots at Johnny as he climbing it. They look for each other in an oil refinery with large tanks. A policeman tells an officer not to shoot at Earle. He climbs up steps and runs on the top of a tank. Johnny goes up the stairs and follows him. They see each other and point their guns at each other and shoot. The shots cause a large explosion.
The next day the ruins are still smoldering. Officers and a medical person find the remains of the two who did it, but they cannot tell them apart. The corpses are carried off. A damaged sign reads “STOP DEAD END.”This heist drama portrays three men and the relations two have with women. The older southerner is very prejudiced against Negroes, and that makes their task more difficult. Trying to take what did not belong to them cost them their lives.