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In New York City, while drugstore employee Robert Manners is delivering a package to Judith Fenton's apartment, he surreptitiously unlocks her door, then hides outside. After the building janitor, George Pilski, visits Judith, Robert re-enters and strangles the young woman, leaving the message "Ask Mother" scrawled in lipstick on the wall. When ailing media mogul Amos Kyne receives word about the murder, he calls to his sickbed his three key staff members, New York Sentinel editor John Day Griffith, newspaper photographer Harry Kritzer and Kyne wire services head Mark Loving. Amos also summons his favorite employee, former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and novelist Ed Mobley, who now headlines a television program on Amos' local station. After chastising the men for failing to pick up on the story earlier, Amos instructs them to label the murderer "The Lipstick Killer" and make the case front-page news. After the editors leave, Amos confides to Ed that he has made two big mistakes in his life: spoiling his only son, Walter, and not convincing Ed to take over his business. When Ed demurs that he does not want power, Amos reminds him that spearheading media outlets allows free speech to flourish and aids democracy. Suddenly, the ill man collapses, and soon after, Ed broadcasts the news of Amos' death. Walter, an immature playboy with no understanding of the media, immediately takes control of the Kyne empire. In his father's office, Walter reveals his plans to force Griffith, Kritzer and Loving to compete for the position of executive editor, the man who will make all the decisions while Walter takes the credit. Each man realizes that scooping the story of The Lipstick Killer will make him a frontrunner for the executive position, and so turns to his office allies to help him in secret. Loving calls in his girl friend, fashion columnist Mildred Donner, who advises him to collaborate with reporter Gerald Meade. Meanwhile, John approaches Ed, his former reporter, in the Blue Dell, the bar downstairs from the office. Ed refuses to take sides, but at home later, his girl friend, Nancy Liggett, who is Loving's secretary, urges him to help John, and he agrees after she promises to marry him. At the same time, Walter invites his old friend, Kritzer, to dinner, unaware that he is secretly having an affair with Walter's wife Dorothy and now hopes she will convince her husband to promote him. Later that night, John learns that an arrest has been made and asks Ed to get the details from his friend, police lieutenant Bert Kaufman. Bert allows Ed to see some of the interrogation of Pilski, whose prints were found in Judith's room, but Ed quickly surmises that Pilksi is innocent. After another murder is reported, and a Strangler comic book left by the killer is discovered at the scene of the crime, Ed and Bert surmise that it must be the same murderer. Together, they devise a plan under which Ed will insult the killer on television in order to incite him into acting rashly. Meanwhile, Meade learns about Pilski's arrest and informs Loving that the janitor is The Lipstick Killer. At the office, when Loving tells John and Walter that he is going to print the story, John points out that they may be committing libel. Walter is publicly embarrassed by his lack of understanding of the term libel, and Loving is forced to kill the story. Moments later, Ed addresses the killer directly on his broadcast, which Robert is watching at home. Ed's description of him as a "mama's boy" infuriates Robert, who lashes out at his mother for treating him like a girl during his childhood. Ed, Bert, John and Nancy meet at the bar, where Ed informs Nancy that they must use her as bait to trap the killer. After she learns that plainclothesman Michael O'Leary will follow her everywhere, Nancy agrees to the plan, and Ed announces their engagement in the newspaper to alert the killer to Nancy's existence. Loving, sensing that he is losing the competition, solicits Mildred to entice Ed to their side. That night, she joins Ed at the Blue Dell and, after encouraging him to drink excessively, invites him home. At the same time, in the apartment that Dorothy keeps for trysts with Kritzer, she informs the photo editor that if she convinces Walter to hire him, Kritzer must from then on answer to her. Robert is sent to Dorothy's to deliver a package, and when he spots her, is enflamed with lust. He does not have time to jimmy the door lock, but upon leaving, spies Nancy's name outside her apartment, which is across the hall. He rings the bell but, getting no answer, races to the Kyne building and spies Ed and Mildred in the Blue Dell. Although Ed's drunken state and loyalty to Nancy kept him from making love to Mildred, the next morning Mildred tells the whole office, including Nancy, about their assignation, and Nancy breaks up with Ed. Upon discovering that he has clinched a lucrative television contract, Loving celebrates his coup and assumes he has won the contest. Later, Ed tricks Nancy into meeting him and Bert at the bar, but she storms out. Although Robert is trailing her, he spots Michael and backs off. At the bar, Ed and Bert deduce that the killer will seek a new stimulus, and realizing that he may strike regardless of Michael's presence, rush to Nancy's. There, Robert has tried to gain entrance, but Nancy, assuming he is Ed, keeps her door locked. Robert instead follows Dorothy into her apartment and chokes her, but her screams alert Nancy, who helps Dorothy into her apartment. When Ed and Bert pull up outside, Nancy points out Robert, whom they pursue into the subway. After a harrowing chase, Ed and Bert capture Robert and arrest him. Ed calls John with the scoop on the arrest, prompting John to send Mildred to go to Nancy's apartment to learn the identity of the latest victim, who is in fact Dorothy using the alias "Mrs. Charles Smith." At the apartment building, Mildred immediately recognizes Dorothy, and together with Kritzer, works out a plan to blackmail Walter, who will want to avoid the humiliation of being publicly cuckolded. At the office, John is celebrating his triumph when Kritzer arrives and demands to talk to Walter. Later that day, Ed and John commiserate in the bar over Kritzer's victory. Nancy, sitting a few seats away, and Walter, who has just joined them, are surprised to hear Ed announce he is quitting, as he can no longer work for a man who puts his own interests above those of the business. When Ed leaves, Nancy follows. Days later in a hotel room in Florida, Nancy reads Ed an article reporting that Walter has fired Kritzer, appointed John executive editor and named Mildred as his "personal assistant." When she continues that Walter has announced Ed's return to the paper, as managing editor, Ed tears up the paper, places his hat over the ringing telephone and kisses his new wife.