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In New York City, David Burke, a former policeman who once served a prison sentence, asks bigoted Southern tough guy Earl Slater to rob a bank with him, promising him $50,000 in small bills if the robbery is successful. Earl is reluctant to accept Burke's proposal but feels he needs the money to support his live-in girl friend, Lorry. Burke also tries to recruit Johnny Ingram, a nightclub entertainer who is hopelessly addicted to gambling, but Johnny turns him down. Undaunted, Burke visits Bacco, an Italian mobster to whom Johnny is deeply in debt. Shortly thereafter, Bacco stops by Johnny's club and threatens to kill not only the singer but also his ex-wife and daughter unless the debt is paid in twenty-four hours. The next day, Johnny takes his daughter Eadie to Central Park, and when he realizes that two of Bacco's men are following him, he calls Burke and agrees to help with the robbery. Meanwhile, Earl accompanies Burke to Melton, a small town along the Hudson River. Burke shows Earl the bank and explains that because payday is on Friday, the bank is full of cash on Thursday evenings. Burke adds that a black waiter brings sandwiches to the small staff at the same time each week, and only an aging guard stands watch. Earl refuses the job when he learns that Johnny, a "colored boy," is to take part in it, however. Lorry assures Earl that money is unimportant to her, but he remains gloomy, ashamed that she supports them both. Finally, he decides to meet with Burke, but before he goes, he makes love to Helen, an upstairs neighbor who is fascinated with him because he once killed a man. When Johnny's ex-wife comes by to pick up Eadie, Johnny declares that he still loves her. She seems to love him, too, but complains that his gambling makes him an unfit father. Angry, Johnny replies that by trying to fit into a white world, she is only fooling herself. Late that night, the three men meet at Burke's, and when Earl calls Johnny "boy," Burke reminds him that they are equal partners in the venture. The next day, each man travels to Melton separately, meeting near the river to discuss the details of the crime. Earl continues to insult Johnny, and Burke tries to keep the two from fighting. While waiting for nightfall, Earl shoots a rabbit, and Johnny worriedly flings stones into the river. At six o'clock, Burke arrives at the restaurant near the bank. He tries to upset the waiter's tray as he carries the food order to the bank, but some small boys bump the waiter instead, spilling the coffee and food into the street. Disgruntled, the waiter returns to the restaurant, whereupon Johnny, dressed in waiter clothes, knocks on the side door of the bank. When the guard opens the door, the three robbers rush inside. While Johnny and Burke stuff money into bags, Earl needlessly hits several of the frightened employees. Then, ignoring previously discussed plans, Earl gives Burke the car keys, unwilling to trust Johnny with driving the getaway car. As Burke leaves the bank, he is seen by two policemen, and when the burglar alarm sounds, shooting begins. Burke is shot, and because he now has the car keys, Earl and Johnny, crouching behind the corner, are unable to escape. Burke calls, "Run, Johnny, I'm sorry," and dies, whereupon Earl remarks that at least the old man will not be able to confess their identity to the police. Enraged, Johnny begins shooting at Earl, who manages to escape to a nearby oil refinery. Johnny pursues Earl to the top of an oil tank, and when the two fire on each other, the refinery bursts into flame. Later, as officials are viewing the charred bodies, one of them asks, "Which is which?" "Take your pick," replies the other.