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Frustrated young artist Joe Manning smears his portrait of a woman with red paint because he is disappointed by his lack of skill. Afterward, his mother Nora, who supports him, chides Joe for over-idealizing women, both on canvas and in real life. Joe decides to go on a drinking binge and, a few evenings later, a still drunk Joe visits his friend, Frances "Slacks" Bennett, at the drive-in coffee shop where she works as a carhop. Slacks urges him not to drive, then admits she had a fight with her boyfriend, taxicab driver Red Waller. Joe calls for a cab and specifically asks for Red, a former high school friend, then makes plans to meet Slacks at a nightclub later. Red drops off Joe at the Pago Pago nightclub, where he flirts with the singer, Irene Crescent. After Joe insults Irene by saying she is not a "nice girl" and warns that she will regret it, the bartender, Harry Dorn, throws him out and, after striking him, leaves him on the sidewalk. When Joe later finds Christy Rowen sleepwalking in the street, he takes her to a house in the direction where she was heading. Christy's father Philip answers the door and thanks Joe for bringing her home. Later that night, police detective Hollander surveys the site where a murdered Irene was left and a local high school pin appearing to belong to her killer found beside the body. The next day, Joe is taken to the police station where he is questioned by Hollander and District Attorney Roy. Asked about his high school pin, Joe is unable to recall its location, but states he was at the Rowen house at the time of the murder. When Philip is questioned, however, he claims to have never met Joe. Other potential witnesses include a carhop who works at the same drive-in as Slacks, and Harry, who repeats the threat Joe made to Irene the night she died. Although Joe protests that everyone has lied, he is arrested for Irene's murder. When Nora visits attorney Luther Wood, a childhood friend of Joe, Luther says he is too busy to defend his old friend. After another three attorneys refuse the case, Nora visits Roy, who reveals that Joe, a veteran suffering from battle fatigue, is being analyzed by Dr. Tatreau, a psychiatrist. Tatreau questions Joe about his war record, the red paint Joe smeared on the portrait and Joe's apparent resentment of women, but Joe dismisses it as normal behavior. Although Tatreau diagnoses Joe as having repressed hostility, the district attorney is forced to release Joe after Slacks says that she saw Irene get into a car with another man the night she died. Slacks later admits to Joe that she lied because she believes he is innocent. Still under suspicion, Joe appeals to Philip to tell the police the truth, but he refuses. However, when Joe tells Christy how they first met, she is stunned by the revelation, as she was unaware of her somnambulism. Some time later, Joe reviews his high school yearbook and narrows down the possible killers to four alumni: Harry, Luther, Ralph Corey, a candidate for city council, and rancher George Niles. Joe meets with resistance from Luther and Ralph, both of whom are more interested in protecting their careers than helping him. When Joe borrows a car from Red, because his own has been impounded for the investigation, Red admits that he had been fighting with Slacks because he does not want to marry her. Joe next goes to the Pago Pago club, where Harry's wife angrily defends her husband, although she does not entirely trust him. Slacks, meanwhile, who offered to help Joe with his investigation, visits George at his ranch, which has been foreclosed on by the bank. George, who had offered Joe a ride after Harry threw him out of the bar, admits to seeing Joe the night of the murder. However, when George realizes Slacks is looking for his school pin among the other items for sale, he accuses her and Joe of trying to frame him for the murder. Already distressed by the foreclosure, George becomes overwrought and threatens Slacks, who flees after he tears her shirt. George chases her down the road in his car, but she escapes. Joe arrives moments later and helps Slacks, who now assumes that George is the killer, even though she has no hard evidence. Later, when Red sees Slacks's torn shirt, he initially thinks Joe has been "fresh" with her, but Joe assures him he is mistaken. The next day, Joe makes a date with Christy, who has promised to speak to her father on his behalf. After a consultation with Tatreau, Christy accuses Philip of monopolizing her so he can avoid getting emotionally involved with women, and tells him that Tatreau believes she sleepwalks as a subconscious attempt to escape from her father. Angered by her charges, Philip refuses to testify on Joe's behalf and locks her in her bedroom. After Christy cancels their date, Joe believes he has only one more chance of proving his innocence, and goes to an alumni dance at his former high school. There, Slacks admits she has been in love with him for years, and that it is she who does not want to marry Red. Joe and Slacks look through old student records, searching for a former student with a history of problems. Christy has run away from home, meanwhile, and when Hollander arrives to investigate her disappearance, Philip finally admits that he knows Joe is innocent of murder. At the school, Slacks and Joe discover that Red, who Joe thought had dropped out of high school, had in fact been expelled for a conflict with a girl. Moments later, they discover the body of the night watchman, whom Red has just assaulted. After Slacks runs to safety, Joe confronts Red, who confesses that he framed Joe for the murders, and now intends to kill his friend. Red blindly fires into the dark gymnasium where Joe is hiding, but misses. After Red admits that he has been jealous of his handsome friend since high school, and knows that Slacks loves Joe, Joe knocks the gunman into a pool. Joe rescues Red because he cannot swim and, soaked and sobbing, Red apologizes Joe. Hollander arrives with police moments later and also apologizes to Joe. Now absolved of guilt, Joe locates Slacks and kisses her passionately.