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In the Bronx during the 1920s, twenty-one-year-old Larry Shaw marries nineteen-year-old Margaret, who believes that he is an insurance salesman. In fact, however, Larry is building a career as a gangster, and one night calmly murders a man at the behest of local crime boss Chesty Miller. Meeting Miller for the first time, Larry arrogantly demands regular employment, later telling his best friend and driver, Tony Maldano, that he has "big plans" for them both. Larry returns home, where Margaret and her parents welcome him proudly, and cheerfully agrees to attend Father Gorman's annual church picnic. Father Gorman is suspicious of Larry's glib promise to donate large sums to the church fund, but Margaret thinks little of it. The next day, Larry visits Miller at his office, in an illegal warehouse distillery, and is offered a position on one of Miller's "discipline and execution," or D&E, squads. To prove that he deserves to be the new squad leader, Larry immediately knocks out the current leader, Bo, and is rewarded with a machine gun, which Miller calls a "music box." Instructed to kill one of Miller's enemies, Larry shoots up a crowd of bystanders to carry out the assignment, resulting in furious newspaper editorials railing against the gangsters. Miller is about to fire Larry when he receives a phone call from rival gangster The Bug, who, frightened of Miller's new "muscle," cedes his territory to Miller. Thrilled, Miller names Larry "The Music Box Kid" and gives him a raise. Soon after, District Attorney Henley vows to crack down on crime, and raids a series of stills and gambling houses. Although he fails to capture any of the mobsters, a mailman named MacLaine comes forward to identify Larry. Miller furnishes Larry with crafty lawyer Stanley Sandman, who pays off MacLaine to withdraw his testimony. Father Gorman has read about the story in the newspaper and now visits Margaret to warn her about her husband. When Larry returns home that night, Margaret begs him to tell her he is innocent, but Larry admits to his true profession and insists that he cannot take a menial job for low pay. When he promises her he plans to be the "king of New York," she tries to leave, but he slaps her and threatens to kill her father and Father Gorman if she persists. Soon, Larry calls a meeting of fellow thugs Maldano, Wally Federman, Timmy Atkins, Joe Burl and Steve Marino, and asks them to join the "Larry Shaw mob" to take over the New York area. With their participation ensured, he then announces to Miller that his gang will serve as D&E contractors to all the area mobsters, saving them money and protecting them from being connected to the murders. To attain the contract with Manhattan's Biggie Gaines gang, Larry must impress Biggie's second-in-command, Pat Lamont, with the efficiency of his killing machine. After doing so, Lamont boasts to Larry that he makes all the business decisions for Gaines, who cannot function without him. Over the following months, Larry's gang embarks on a killing spree that attracts much attention from the district attorney's office. Working for all the top bosses, Larry decides to earn extra money by stealing from them. To begin, he hijacks a truck carrying Miller's liquor, then sells it back to the mobster for $50,000, knowing that Miller will be afraid to attack him. In the next phase of his plan, he invites Lamont to his house in order to kidnap him and demand $100,000 ransom from Gaines. As they prepare to move Lamont, Father Gorman arrives to visit Margaret, whose nervousness of late has elicited his concern. Larry pulls Margaret into the kitchen and warns her to get rid of the priest immediately, and although she is frightened and disgusted by her husband, Margaret acquiesces. After paying the ransom, Gaines meets with the other four area mob bosses to discuss how best to stop Larry without attracting more attention from the government. That night, they deliver Maldano's dead body to Larry's door. Furious, Larry vows to kill ten mob members in retaliation, and days of killings follow. In the state capital, George Gordon is tapped to head the new Legislative Crime Commission, and announces that he will stop Larry, whom he calls insane. Intimidated, the mobsters call Larry to inform him that they give up. Larry tries to celebrate with Margaret, but she flees from him and prays for guidance. Soon after, Father Gorman visits her with Gordon, and asks Margaret to tell all she knows about her husband's operation. Terrified, Margaret pretends to know nothing, then faints. Father Gorman attends to her, and when she admits that she is pregnant, he presses her to confess for her child's sake, lest she rear another murderer. Larry calls a meeting of the mob bosses, where he offers to kill Gordon for a fee. Amazed at his relentlessness, they urge him to "lay low," but he threatens to kill each of them if they do not pay. Later, as Larry plans out Gordon's murder with his thugs, Margaret listens from behind the door. The next day, she summons her courage to inform the police, and Larry's mob is arrested outside Gordon's office. When Larry tries to escape, the police gun him down. Years later, Larry and Margaret's son, Thomas, reared without the specter of his father's violence, becomes the pastor of his church.