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In 1946, returning serviceman Dave Hirsh awakens with a hangover on a bus in his hometown of Parkman, Indiana, in the company of Chicago trollop, Ginny Moorhead. To Ginny's disappointment, Dave takes leave of her and checks in to a hotel alone. A writer before the war, Dave has been away from Parkman for sixteen years, but is recognized by the locals who report Dave's arrival to his older brother Frank, a successful jewelry store owner. Suspicious of Dave's unannounced return, Frank visits him. Still resentful over misunderstandings from childhood, Dave refuses to move into Frank's home, but reluctantly agrees to dine with Frank and his wife Agnes that night. Dave then goes to Smitty's Bar and Grill where gambler Bama Dillert introduces himself and invites Dave to join a game of poker that evening. Late that afternoon, Dave goes to the jewelry store and meets Frank's attractive secretary, Edith Barclay. At the Hirshes', Agnes stifles her dislike of Dave, who, in turn, is delighted to meet his seventeen-year-old niece Dawn. When Agnes announces that they will be dining at the country club with retired Professor Robert Haven French and his daughter Gwen, who teaches creative writing at the local college and admires Dave's work, Dave becomes apprehensive. Once the Frenches arrive, however, Dave is put at ease by the professor and is immediately attracted to the prim but striking Gwen. At the club, Dave dances with Gwen, but she is disturbed by his bold physical overtures. Later, when Gwen drives Dave back to his hotel, she ignores his forthright flirtation and attempts to talk to him about his writing. Dismayed by Gwen's cool response, Dave vaguely promises to show her an incomplete story he has written, then goes to Smitty's. At the bar, Dave finds Ginny in the company of her jealous ex-boyfriend, small time Chicago thug Raymond Lanchak. Agreeing to see Ginny later, Dave joins Bama's card game, which is interrupted later by a raid. Just outside of Smitty's, Ginny assures Dave that she is sincerely interested in him, but the couple is waylaid moments later by an angry Raymond, who attacks Dave. Dave and Raymond are taken into police custody. Once Dave is released, he accepts Bama's invitation to move in with him. The following morning, Frank chastises Dave for the altercation and for his association with Ginny, but admits that he paid Dave's legal fine. Later, Dave borrows Bama's car to deliver his unfinished story to the Frenches' home. Gwen acknowledges reading about Dave's arrest, then asks why he is suddenly interested in writing again. Dave admits that her attention prompted him, but when he declares that he may be falling in love with Gwen and attempts to kiss her, she rejects him. Gwen then reads Dave's story and praises it sincerely, insisting that with only a few minor changes she could submit it to a magazine. Surprised, Dave agrees to the changes, then again makes romantic overtures to Gwen, who at last gives in to a passionate kiss before insisting that he depart. That evening, when Agnes reproaches Frank for Dave's behavior, Frank goes to the jewelry store, where he is surprised to find Edith working late. Impulsively Frank asks Edith to go on a drive with him and they end up on a lover's lane, where Edith admits her long attraction to Frank. Unknown to Frank, Dawn and her boyfriend Wally Dennis are parked nearby and Dawn is shocked to see her father kissing Edith. Several days later, Dave visits Gwen to demand to know why she has not contacted him and Gwen confesses her discomfort with Dave's intensity. When Dave accuses Gwen of being afraid, she maintains that they should get to know one another. Undaunted, Dave proposes, only to be stung when Gwen declares that she refuses to becomes another of Dave's barroom tarts. Returning to Bama's, Dave agrees to go with his friend on a gambling trip to Terre Haute and Indianapolis and invites Ginny to join them. That night in a Terre Haute bar, Dave bitterly assures Ginny that he is not involved with Gwen, then is surprised to see a drunken Dawn sitting with a much older man. Dawn confesses to having run away from home out of disillusionment, but Dave gently admonishes her and insists she return home. The next day Dave and Bama continue to Indianapolis. Dave attempts to phone Gwen several times, but she refuses to accept his call until her father presses her to speak to Dave. Gwen tells Dave that his story will be published in a highly respected literary magazine and admits to missing him. Pleased, Dave returns to the card game, where a man accuses Dave and Bama of colluding to cheat him. When the man then knocks off Bama's lucky hat, a fight breaks out and Bama is knifed by the man, who then flees. Later at the hospital, a doctor tells the recovering Bama that he suffers from diabetes and counsels him to stop drinking and change his lifestyle. Meanwhile back in Parkman, Ginny goes to the college to see Gwen. Lingering outside of Gwen's classroom, Ginny listens uncomprehendingly while Gwen tells her students that supremely gifted artists should not be judged by their personal behavior. After class, Ginny approaches Gwen and asks if she intends to marry Dave. Taken aback, Gwen is unsure how to respond. When Ginny reveals that she was with Dave in Terre Haute and that although she is in love with him, she would give him up to make him happy, Gwen icily declares that there is nothing between them. Upon his return to Parkman, Dave sees Dawn, who happily reveals that she has gotten a job with a New York publishing house. Later, Frank berates Dave at the store for the fight in Terre Haute, but Dave advises Frank to pay more attention to his daughter. Overcome with guilt, Edith then declares that she is leaving town. Dave visits the Frenches, but when he realizes that Gwen is purposely avoiding him, he goes to her bedroom to find her. Dave demands to know why Gwen has changed since their phone conversation and she angrily tells him that she does not like his life or his associates. Disheartened, Dave returns to Bama's, where he insults Ginny, who is enthusiastically clutching the magazine with his article. Later, Dave apologizes for his rudeness and reads Ginny his story, but is frustrated when she admits that she does not understand it, but still likes it. When Ginny adds that she does not understand Dave yet loves him, Dave proposes. Stunned and ecstatic, Ginny accepts. Dismayed when Dave reveals his plans, Bama leaves the house. That evening as the city of Parkman celebrates its Centennial, Dave and Ginny are married by a justice of the peace. When Bama learns that Raymond has returned to town and is threatening to kill Dave, he hurries out into the festive crowds to search for his friend. Chasing the unsuspecting Dave and Ginny through the crowds, Raymond shoots and wounds Dave, but when he attempts to fire again, Ginny throws herself in front of Dave and is killed. The following day, a devastated Dave, Bama and the Frenches attend Ginny's funeral.