Arthur Caesar won an Oscar for this original story about boyhood friends who become a murdering gambler executed by a prosecuting governor.
In 1904 a fire on a boat results in Blackie (Mickey Rooney) and Jim losing their parents. They are taken in by a Jewish man, but he is soon killed by police at a protest rally. By 1920 Jim has earned a law degree while Blackie gambles. When a man complains about Blackie's roulette wheel, Blackie (Clark Gable) bets him even and wins $40,000 and a yacht. He prepares for a police raid. Eleanor (Myrna Loy) tells Blackie his place is rotten. She loves him and wants to travel on his yacht to get away from his rackets. Blackie meets Jim Wade (William Powell) at the Dempsey-Firpo fight. Jim is elected district attorney. Blackie tries to collect a bet, threatening Manny Arnold. Eleanor meets Jim waiting for Blackie; he tells her of his idealistic life and takes her home at 5 a.m., leaving his overcoat. Eleanor decides she no longer loves Blackie and leaves him.
On New Year's Eve Jim runs into Eleanor and takes her out. Blackie corners Manny to pay up. When Manny pulls a gun, Blackie shoots him. Spud (Nat Pendleton) left Jim's overcoat in the room; but he had the coat copied, and Blackie returns that one to Jim in his new office. Jim intends to clean up the city and warns Blackie. Jim marries Eleanor; Blackie has the discretion not to show up as best man. Eleanor asks the priest Joe (Leo Carrillo), who saved Blackie from drowning in 1904, to help Blackie.
Jim Wade is nominated for governor. Snow expects to be on the ticket as district attorney; but Jim learned about his graft and refuses. Snow tells Jim everyone knows that Blackie killed Manny Arnold. At the races Blackie sees Eleanor. She tells him she is worried about Snow and the Arnold case. At a hockey game Blackie meets Snow in the washroom and shoots him; a witness sees him leave. Jim tells Eleanor that Blackie was arrested, and she visits him in jail. She loves Jim, and Blackie tells her to keep quiet so they won't know his motive. At the trial for the Snow murder Jim tells the jury that Blackie must die in order to stop violent crime. Blackie is convicted, and this helps Jim's political career. Blackie is sentenced to death, and Jim is sworn in as governor. Jim refuses to commute Blackie's sentence because of why people voted for him.
Eleanor asks Jim to save Blackie's life, saying he killed Snow to help Jim become governor. Jim says the state now found the motive. Eleanor leaves Jim, because he will not commute Blackie. Jim goes to Sing Sing to visit Blackie. Blackie is cheerful, and Father Joe is there. Jim says he must commute; but Blackie says he doesn't want it. They shake hands. Lights dim during the electrocution. At a joint session of the legislature Jim resigns as governor. Eleanor apologizes to Jim and asks to stay with him.
Ironically Dillinger was killed after watching this movie. This story personalizes the way a prosecutor's career can be promoted by getting murderers murdered by the state. The friendly attitude and motives of Blackie give this story style as he willingly gives up his life for his ethical friend, who cannot stay in an office obtained by killing his friend.