Suggested by a true story, a reporter goes after a racketeer, who takes over a prison with his graft system.
Waterfront Protection boss Bull Bransom (Stanley Fields) plays tricks on a youth delivering an orchid and on his girlfriend Pearl (Peggy Shannon), and his men laugh. His gangsters use force to control the waterfront. Steve Cardigan (Morgan Conway) warns Bull and reads him the news report by Tim Haydon (John Garfield). Bull gets Tim fired; but Tim goes to the hospital for another paper and can't get in to see Captain Pederson, but he meets Sunny Walsh (Rosemary Lane). Gangsters slug Pederson and officer Terry Walsh (Dick Purcell). Tim is brought to Bull, and they argue. Tim leaves, and Steve tells Bull he will be arrested. In his trial Terry Walsh gives the judge the $500 used to bribe him, and Pederson overcomes fear of threats to identify Bull's men. Bull and three men are sent to Blackwell Island for at least six months. Steve tells Warden Stuart Granger (Granville Bates) that Bull wants a vacation. Bull takes over the Warden's office, asks how much he takes in, and promises to protect him. Bull moves into the hospital and orders the patients out.
Tim visits the Walsh home. Pederson's body is delivered, and Terry Walsh throws a bomb out the window. Tim reports this, and Bull complains. Steve warns Bull that Walsh is investigating. Bull gets out to get Walsh, who is sent to Bull and stabbed by Mike (Norman Willis). Before he dies, Terry Walsh tells his sister Sunny that it was Bull. Prosecutor Ballinger (Leon Ames) says that Bull was locked up, but Tim questions him and socks him. Tim is arrested and sent to prison. He has no mattress, and Benny Farmer (Charley Foy) tells Tim that Bull sells good food and everything. Tim buys blankets. Bull summons Tim and socks him. Thomas MacNair (Victor Jory) is appointed Commissioner of Correction and is told that Tim is gathering information. Tim waits on Bull, who gives steak to his dogs. Hungry inmates hear of this and riot. Tim saves Bull's life and is put in the kitchen. MacNair inspects the prison. Sunny visits Tim; Mike tells Bull, who warns the warden that a man will escape in a guard's uniform. Bull and Mike give Tim a uniform; but he and Benny lock them in a room. Tim swims and calls on MacNair to explain and advise him how to clean up the prison. MacNair raids the prison with Tim. The warden says that he was under a political boss. Bull tries to escape alone in a speed-boat, but Tim catches him. Bull is convicted and sentenced to 99 years.
This satire of prison corruption by gangsters suggests
that courageous reporting can help to clean up graft and punish