Based on a book by Warden Lewis E. Lawes and the 1933 film 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, a cocky criminal is released on his word and keeps it.
Tommy Gordan (John Garfield) and three men rob $15,000 and shoot a man. Tommy joins Kay (Ann Sheridan); she worries about him as they go dancing. Ragan (Willard Robertson) arrests Tommy. Ed Crowley (Jerome Cowan) defends Tommy, but he gets 5-30 years. Ed asks Warden Long (Pat O'Brien) to go easy on Tommy and gives him bonds, which the warden sets on fire. Tommy complains his clothes are too big and fights guards. The warden says Tommy gets no uniform and tells him he won't let him work until he wants to. After three months in isolation Tommy says he'll work. Kay visits him. A psychologist (Grant Mitchell) tests bright Steven Rockford (Burgess Meredith). Tommy spills ink but gets the shoe factory too. Rockford befriends Tommy. Mike (Guinn Williams) fails the test and gets the garbage detail. Rockford's pregnant wife visits, and he says he'll be with her. Kay says Ed will help Tommy, who gets jealous. Rockford plans an escape, but the warden is warned. Mike cries he is sick and knocks out a guard. Tommy tells Rockford he won't go because Saturday is his jinx. Mike and Black Jack dress as guards. Rockford shoots a guard, but they are trapped. Black Jack shoots and is killed. Rockford climbs up and jumps to his death. Mike is put in solitary, and Tommy tells the warden to lock his cell.
The warden informs Tommy that Kay was critically injured in a car. The warden lets him go on his word he'll come back. Ed learns that Kay wants $10,000 to cover up that he caused the accident. Ragan sees Tommy and follows him. Tommy visits Kay, who says Ed caused her to jump from the car. Tommy takes a gun; Kay pleads for him to stay, and he gives her the gun. Ed comes in and gives her the money. Tommy fights with Ed. Ragan hears and calls the police. Kay shoots Ed and puts the money in Tommy's pocket. Tommy leaves, and dying Ed tells police that Tommy did it. The district attorney (Henry O'Neill) calls the warden that Tommy shot Ed. Tommy gives a friend money to get him on a tramp steamer; but when he reads that the warden has to resign, he turns himself in to him. Kay tells the D. A. that she did it and testifies; but Tommy is convicted. Tommy sees Mike go to his execution crying out. The chaplain (John Litel) reads the Bible in Tommy's last hours. Crying Kay tells the warden what happened; but Tommy says he does not want Kay convicted, and he bravely walks to the electric chair.
This follows the 1933 movie so closely that one wonders
about the lack of creativity after years of censorship. Garfield
represents the cynical rebel as usual, but his character redeeming
the overly trusting warden by his sacrifice reflects the wish
fulfillment of the warden's story.