Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney), a young auto mechanic in California, “borrows” $20 ($225 today) from the cash register at his job to pay for a date with blonde femme fatale Vera Novak (Jeanne Cagney), who works at a nearby diner.

In a scheme to return the pilfered $20, Dan decides to pay only one dollar as a down payment at a jewelry store for a $100 wristwatch ($1,126 today), a deal that requires him to sign a sales contract to buy the watch over time with regular installment payments. He then promptly goes to a pawnshop where he hocks the watch for $30 cash ($338 today), using most of that money to cover the missing funds at the garage. However, the next day Brady is tracked down by an investigator who informs him that he has violated the installment contract by pawning a watch he does not legally own. The investigator tells him that if he does not pay the jewelry store the full $100 for the watch within 24 hours, he will be charged with grand larceny, a crime punishable by three years in state prison. After unsuccessfully applying for a payday loan and attempting to use his car as collateral for another loan, a desperate Dan resorts to mugging a tipsy bar patron known for carrying large amounts of cash.

Nick Dramoshag (Peter Lorre), the seedy owner of a penny arcade on Santa Monica Pier and a man who has had his own intimate history with Vera, discovers evidence of Dan’s mugging. He blackmails the young mechanic, demanding a car from Dan’s job in exchange for his silence. Dan steals the car, which he trades for the evidence from Dramoshag. Dan’s morally lacking boss Oren Mackey (Art Smith) soon confronts Dan and says he knows that he stole the car. Mackey demands the return of the vehicle or $3,000 in cash ($33,788 today), or he will go to the police.

Dan and Vera steal the month-end receipts from Dramoshag’s arcade, obtaining $3,610 ($40,659 today). Dan expects to use the money to pay Mackey. Vera, however, feels entitled to half the money, so she buys herself a mink coat for $1,800 ($20,273 today). Once he learns what she has done, a furious Dan returns to the garage alone, where he offers Mackey $1,800 to settle their arrangement. Mackey takes the money, but picks up the phone to call the police. After Mackey pulls a gun, the two men struggle and Dan strangles his boss with the phone cord. Certain that the man is dead, Brady takes Dan’s gun and returns to Vera to inform her of what he has done. He asks her to flee with him to Texas. She will not go, insisting that the authorities have no evidence against her. Disgusted by Vera’s self-serving behavior, Dan storms out.

Outside Vera’s apartment, Dan’s still-loyal but unappreciated former girlfriend Helen (Barbara Bates) waits in his car to talk with him. She had seen him earlier on the street and realized then that he was in trouble. She now decides to accompany Dan as they drive out of town to avoid his anticipated arrest for murder. After his car breaks down, Brady carjacks a sedan, which happens to be driven by a sympathetic lawyer (Taylor Holmes). Dan subsequently gets out of that car when they arrive at Santa Monica Pier. There, he tells Helen to remain with the lawyer as he carries out his new plan to escape to Mexico on a friend’s charter boat. He also assures Helen that he will send for her once he is safely resettled across the border. A few minutes later, the lawyer and Helen hear over the sedan’s radio a news report that Mackey survived his injuries. They now drive back to the pier to find Dan and inform him that he is not a murderer. Meanwhile, police officers spot Dan there, wound him by gunfire in an ensuing chase, and take him into custody. Helen comforts Dan and vows to wait for him until he is released from prison.

Mickey Rooney as Dan
Jeanne Cagney as Vera
Barbara Bates as Helen
Peter Lorre as Nick
Taylor Holmes as Harvey
Art Smith as Mackey
Red Nichols as himself
Wally Cassell as Chuck
Richard Lane as Lt. Nelson
Patsy O’Connor as Millie
John Gallaudet as Moriarity
Minerva Urecal as Landlady
Sidney Marion as Shorty
Jimmie Dodd as Buzz (as Jimmy Dodd)
Lester Dorr as Baldy
Kitty O’Neil as Madame Zaronga
Jack Elam (uncredited speaking role)




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