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One morning in New Orleans' French Quarter, Danny Fisher quarrels with his sister Mimi about their father, whom Danny considers a weakling and blames for their economic straits. When Mimi chides Danny about his job as a janitor in a strip club, Danny retorts that one man in the family has to work. Danny and Mimi resolve not to argue, however, as Danny is to graduate high school that day, an eagerly anticipated event because he was held back the previous year. Danny then goes to the Blue Shade Club, owned by gangster Maxie Fields, to clean and winds up rescuing Ronnie, Maxie's mistress, from two violent men whom Maxie had ordered Ronnie to "entertain." After climbing into a taxi, the drunken Ronnie insists on a kiss before Danny leaves, an incident witnessed by several students in front of the school. When one boy taunts Danny, the quick-tempered Danny slugs him and is sent to Mr. Evans, the principal. Mrs. Pearson, the teacher who held back Danny the previous year, is angered by his fighting and refuses to let him graduate. Evans tries to convince Danny to return to school the following year, but Danny explains that he must work. Danny also relates that after his mother's death three years earlier, his father sank into a depression, lost his drugstore and has been unable to hold a job. As Danny walks home, he is attacked by Shark, the older brother of the boy he hit, and Shark's minions, Dummy and Sal. Danny quickly disarms Shark, and the older boy, admiring the way Danny fights, invites him to join them for an upcoming job. Danny demurs and goes home, where Mr. Fisher assures him that he is proud of him, even though he has heard about his dismissal. Fisher promises Danny that he will get the job for which he is interviewing the next day and tries to make him promise that while he works, Danny will attend school, but Danny rejects his proposition. The next day, Danny returns to Shark's hangout and agrees to help them rob the neighborhood five and dime. Guitar in hand, Danny sings in the store and distracts the clerks and patrons while Shark and his men pilfer a large quantity of loot. Clerk Nellie spots the shoplifters and deduces that Danny is in on the scheme, but does not alert the manager because she is attracted to Danny. Meanwhile, Fisher goes to the pharmacy about the job, and after begging for a chance, is hired by pharmacist Primont. That night, at the Blue Shade, Danny incurs Maxie's wrath by his attentions to Ronnie, who states that she had heard the young man sing once and compliments his voice. Hoping to embarrass Danny, Maxie forces him to sing, but Danny wows the crowd with a dynamic performance. Charlie Le Grand, the owner of the King Creole nightclub, is impressed and offers Danny a job, but Danny, riled by the situation, leaves when Charlie and Maxie begin threatening each other over who will control Danny. Danny goes to pick up Nellie after she gets off work and, mistakenly assuming that she "knows the score" because she obviously likes him so much, takes her to a hotel. Nellie's confusion shames Danny, and after apologizing, he walks her home. In the morning, Danny goes to the pharmacy to wish his father good luck, and is revolted by Fisher's subservience to the overbearing Primont. Danny then approaches Charlie about the singing job and warns that he will have to convince his father to allow him to work. Charlie comes to dinner that night, and although Fisher remains adamant that Danny should not work, Charlie and Mimi begin a romance. After another argument with his father, Danny begins singing at the King Creole and is a big hit. Danny also dates Nellie, although he advises her not to fall in love with him, as he is not ready to settle down. Danny's fame grows throughout the French Quarter but when he goes to the pharmacy to reconcile with his father, he witnesses Primont humiliate Fisher again. As he is walking away, Shark, who now works for Maxie, insists that Danny accompany him to Maxie's. When Danny refuses, Shark offers to help with Primont. Danny agrees and goes to Maxie's apartment, where Maxie urges him to return to the Blue Shade. Danny storms out in disgust at Maxie's crude treatment of Ronnie, and so Maxie urges Shark to get something with which he can blackmail Danny. That night, Shark plans to rob Primont as he goes to the bank, but Danny, regretting his instigation of the crime, attempts to stop him. Shark talks Danny into letting him proceed, and Danny watches from a distance as Shark and Sal beat up Fisher, who is wearing Primont's coat and hat while running the errand for him. Danny is heartbroken when he learns of his father's condition, especially when he requires an expensive operation and Maxie sends the needed, specialized physician. A month later, Danny, still at the King Creole, has been attempting to repay Maxie for the physician's services, and anticipates his father's return from the hospital. Maxie again sends for Danny but when Danny arrives, he finds Maxie passed out and Ronnie drunk. Ronnie informs Danny that Maxie has ordered her to "befriend" Danny, but Danny refuses to play along, even though Ronnie warns him that Maxie will punish her if she fails. Danny and Ronnie are interrupted by a revived Maxie, who threatens to reveal to Fisher his son's involvement in his beating if Danny does not return to the Blue Shade. Danny performs one last show at Charlie's then prepares to leave, telling Charlie and Mimi only that he received a better offer from Maxie. The next day, Danny is warned by Dummy that Fisher is with Maxie. At Maxie's, Fisher is attempting to persuade the gangster to release Danny when he recognizes Shark, and Maxie sadistically reveals Danny's part in the attack on him. Danny arrives as his father is exiting and, seeing the look on his face, rushes to Maxie's in a rage. Danny and Maxie engage in a fierce fistfight, with Danny leaving after he knocks out Maxie. Danny is then pursued by Shark and Sal and is injured in their subsequent brawl, although he manages to escape. Ronnie takes Danny to a remote shack, and after a few days, Danny recovers. The couple is enjoying a quiet day together when Dummy and Maxie arrive, and Maxie shoots Ronnie. After Maxie misses Danny, however, Dummy struggles with Maxie for the gun and kills Maxie. Ronnie then dies in Danny's arms, and later, Danny returns to the King Creole. As Danny sings before a packed house, which includes Mimi, Charlie and Nellie, he is gratified to see his father enter and smile at him.