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When gangster Slick Conner turns state's evidence against mob boss Maxie Matthews, Maxie orders him killed. In a darkened parking lot late one night, Maxie's second-in-command, Joe Reno, and his henchman, Bernard "Axe" Duncan, beat and stab Slick and then stuff his body into the trunk of Reno's car. Slick's murder is witnessed by schoolteacher Alan Avery, who notifies the police from a pay phone. When they ask his name, Alan slams down the receiver, but leaves a package of medicine behind in the booth. Alan then hurries home to his pregnant wife Edie, who senses that something is wrong. While Alan wrestles with his conscience, the crude, brutal Maxie harangues his moll Marie to "get some culture." Soon after, the police knock at Alan's door to deliver the pills and question him about the murder. The police accompany Alan to the crime scene, but once there, Alan, fearful of becoming a target, pleads with the officers to leave him alone. After the lieutenant lectures Alan about his civic duty, Alan agrees to cooperate and repeats the license plate number of the assassins' car. Upon tracing the plate to Reno, the police arrest him and Axe for murder. After Alan identifies them in a lineup and agrees to testify against them in court, the lieutenant cautions him not to tell anyone that he was an eyewitness to murder. Soon after the arrest, Maxie orders Bryce Barker, the gang's partially deaf attorney, to bail Reno and Axe out of jail. Years of working for the mob have driven Bryce to drink and earned him the contempt of his wife Diane. At the police station, Bryce learns of Alan's existence from Capt. Finch, a crooked cop on Maxie's payroll. Finch also provides the newspapers with Alan's identity, and the next morning, Alan finds his name trumpeted in the press. When Edie worries about her husband's safety, Alan reminds her that he faced worse dangers in the Korean War and refuses to go into hiding. Maxie, who is in the midst of a gang war with syndicate head Tomkins, authorizes Bryce to bribe Alan not to testify. To convince Alan, Maxie sends his punch-drunk, ex-boxer valet Chester to intimidate Edie. After refusing Bryce's bribe, Alan returns home to find Edie lying dead on the kitchen floor, killed by Chester's blows. Bent on revenge, Alan takes a cab to Maxie's home and drops his gun while paying his fare, prompting the cab driver to notify the police. After scaling the wall surrounding Maxie's house, Alan crawls through the garden and is about to shoot Maxie when the police arrive and arrest him for trespassing. Sympathetic to Alan's plight, Sgt. Ernie Tucker hides the gun and accuses Maxie of murdering Alan's wife and unborn child. Back at the police station, the lieutenant places Alan under protective custody. Later, Diane shows Bryce the headlines reporting Edie's murder, but he denies complicity in the crime. Soon after, Maxie summons bookie Max Skepio, who bears a resemblance to Slick, and orders him to testify that he was the man Alan saw beaten in the parking lot. After Mike recounts his story to the police, the murder charges against Reno and Axe are changed to assault and they are released on bail. While toasting his victory with Reno and Axe, Maxie decrees that Alan be killed, causing Bryce finally to quit. Once Bryce leaves, Maxie, furious, orders his death, too. After drunkenly congratulating himself at a bar, Bryce staggers into the parking lot and is gunned down by Maxie's thugs. Frustrated by the turn of events, Alan decides to visit Bryce. When the attorney stumbles in, Diane and Alan assume that he is drunk until Alan discovers that he has been shot. Bryce then warns Alan that he is to be next, and tells him that Maxie is hosting a Christmas party at his home. After Alan departs, Bryce informs Diane that he has forsaken the mob and then dies in her arms. Upon returning home to his empty house, Alan smashes open the piggybank earmarked for his dead child. When a carload of killers pulls up in front, Alan runs out the back door and uses the money to buy a gun. Maxie, meanwhile, is awaiting the arrival of his guests when Tomkins appears and informs him that he has taken over and that Reno and Axe have been rearrested for murder after Mike recanted his testimony. As the singer hired by Maxie warbles in the background, Chester tackles Tomkins' thugs, who then throttle him unconscious. When Maxie discovers that Finch has been arrested, too, he laments that Chester is his only friend. Marie, fed up with being abused and insulted, announces that she is walking out on Maxie, who then assaults her on the stairs. Soon after, Alan, seeing that Maxie's door is ajar, enters the house and climbs the stairs, gun drawn, and finds Maxie seated in a darkened room all alone, sobbing and broken. Retreating, Alan walks out of the house and closes the door behind him.