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As popular New Orleans-Times Picayune columnist Gabe Jordan is about to retire, he tells his successor, Dan, to find stories about real people, especially those on the section of Bourbon Street called "Glory Alley." Gabe then relates his greatest story: Boxer Socks Barbarosa has finally earned a shot at the title and is about to fight champion Terry Waulker when he suddenly bolts from the ring and runs to his dressing room. Socks' manager, Peppi Donnato, thinks Socks must be ill, but Socks angrily insists that he simply wants to give up the ring. When asked by his blind friend, the Judge, what his daughter Angie will think, Socks says she will understand, but accidentally knocks down the Judge. Later, in the deserted arena, Socks, who always wears a hat, is taunted by Waulker, whom he knocks out then recites a ten count. As Socks walks the streets, he hears talk and reads headlines of his cowardice, then goes to see Angie at the Chez Bozo, the club where she dances. Angie loves Socks but does not understand why he decided to quit the ring so abruptly. Socks then goes to the Punch Bowl bar to apologize to the Judge, but the Judge, a former jeweler, rebukes Socks, saying that he is just a flawed diamond. Peppi, who is more understanding, says that he is buying the Punch Bowl and wants Socks to be his partner. Socks declines, even though Peppi gives him the contract to his other fighter, Newsboy Addams. One morning, a hung-over Socks is awakened by Sal "The Pig" Nichols, a local boss who wants him to have Newsboy throw a fight. Socks refuses and later accepts Peppi's offer to become a relief bartender. Soon Socks begins selling tickets to a raffle, which offers a turkey and Newsboy's contract as the grand prize. Pig, who has bought a number of the tickets, wins the raffle, and is infuriated when Socks reports that Newsboy's contract is worthless, as he has been drafted. When Socks tells Angie that he, too, is going into the Army, she pledges to wait for him. In Korea, Socks becomes an excellent soldier and is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. When Socks returns to New Orleans, he is hailed as a hero by everyone except the Judge, who orders him to stay away from Angie. Although she agrees to keep seeing Socks in secret, Angie says that she cannot leave her dependent father. For the next few weeks, Socks enjoys being a local hero, but soon the accolades fade and he becomes so embittered that he almost returns his medal. Socks tells Peppi that he would like to open his own bar but cannot get a lease without giving Pig a ten percent cut. A short time later, as the Judge is sitting in the Punch Bowl, he is approached by noted Milwaukee eye surgeon Dr. Robert Ardley. Although not promising a definite cure, Ardley, who is lecturing in New Orleans, asks the Judge to come see him. The Judge is suspicious, and insists that he has no money for an operation, but Ardley says that at his clinic he only takes patients who cannot pay. The next day, the Judge and his friend, Shadow Johnson, visit Ardley, and the Judge says that he wants the operation, even though there is only a fifty-fifty chance of success. When they run into Socks in the doctor's building, the Judge is suspicious, and when he later discovers that Socks is from Milwaukee, he angrily confronts him. Socks denies arranging the operation, but Peppi confirms it, and the Judge denounces Socks as "a gutter rat." Now even Angie cannot forgive her father, and reveals that the money they live on is not from a legacy from her Belgian grandfather but her earnings at the Chez Bozo. Although shattered because he had thought that Angie worked nights at a hospital, he secretly goes to see her perform. Outside the club, Socks tells Pig he will give him a ten percent cut of the bar for his help in securing a lease, but Pig knocks him down and calls Socks a welsher. Just then, Shadow arrives, saying that the Judge will have the eye surgery After the operation, Ardley goes to say goodbye to the Judge because he has to return to Milwaukee. The Judge promises to pay him, but Ardley refuses, saying that Socks has taken care of it and for years has anonymously sent money to the clinic. Ardley also relates that, years ago, his father had sewn fifty-nine stitches in Socks's head after Socks's brutish father murdered his mother and left Socks for dead. That night, when Angie and Socks meet, he tells her what happened to him as a child and relates that it was the bright lights of the arena that made him flee before the championship bout. Because other children had taunted him for his head scars, he secretly feared that everyone would see the still visible scars and ridicule him. Angie tenderly assures him that there is no reason to be ashamed and he only needs the courage to take off his hat. Some time later, the Judge returns to the Punch Bowl, although the operation was not a success, he says that, thanks to Socks, he will never really be blind again. When Socks comes into the bar, not wearing his hat, he sees the Judge smiling and embraces Angie. With his story now complete, Gabe reveals that Socks returned to boxing and won the championship after only eight fights. Gabe and Dan then go to the Punch Bowl, where Peppi, Socks, the Judge and Angie are enjoying one another's company.