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At the conclusion of a newsreel detailing the exploits of gangster John Dillinger, Dillinger's father talks to the movie audience about his son's youth in Indiana. While describing John's childhood as uneventful, Mr. Dillinger admits that his son was headstrong and ambitious: Soon after he leaves home to seek his fortune in Indianapolis, John finds himself short of money in a "cash-only" speakeasy. When his date insists on ordering another drink, John excuses himself and heads to a nearby grocery store, where he fools the clerk into thinking he has a gun and robs the place of $7.20. John is quickly apprehended by the police, however, and lands in prison. There, John makes friends with his tough cellmate, Specs Green, a veteran bank robber, and Spec's gang--Marco Minnelli, Doc Madison and Kirk Otto. Impressed by Specs's confident and intelligent approach to crime, John, whose sentence is much shorter than the others, becomes determined to help them escape upon his release. As soon as he is freed, John holds up a movie theater box office, after flirting with the ticket seller, Helen Rogers. Although Helen recognizes John from a police photo, she declines to identify him during a line-up and instead goes out with him. After several more robberies, John is ready to carry out his escape plan, which involves sneaking a barrel filled with firearms to the gang while they are on quarry duty. Once armed, the gangsters shoot their way to freedom and, with John, commit a series of bank robberies in the Midwest. After the escapees are recognized by one of their victims, Specs orders John, who has not been identified by the authorities, to check out their next target, the Farmers Trust bank. Before John does so, he viciously attacks the speakeasy waiter who had previously refused to accept his personal check. Posing as a potential customer, John then investigates Farmers Trust and reports to the gang that the bank's security system is extremely sophisticated. Specs, who has grown wary of the trigger-happy John, decides to seek outside help for the job, but John convinces the others that he has a better plan. Using gas bombs, the thieves rob the bank and flee to their in-town hideout. There, John demands Specs's double cut and assumes leadership of the gang. The men split up for four weeks, during which time John and Helen go on a spending spree, then meet up again at a lodge run by Kirk's foster parents, the Ottos. Sometime later, the gang, realizing that the police are closing in on them, take off on another crime spree, this time hitting banks in the West. In Tucson, John, who has been designated as "public enemy number one," develops a toothache and reluctantly visits a dentist. As the dentist starts to anesthetize him, police burst into the office and arrest him. Later, with a fake gun whittled out of wood, John escapes from jail and reunites with the gang. After John kills Specs, who he assumes betrayed him, he makes plans to rob a shipment of money from a train. During the elaborate robbery, John is wounded and Kirk is killed. John, Marco, Doc and new member Tony seek refuge at the Ottos' lodge, where Helen is also staying, but with Kirk dead, the elderly couple have no qualms about turning them in. As they are calling the police, however, John kills them both. John then prevents Helen from sneaking off with Tony and, as police surround the lodge, drives off with her. Marco and Doc surrender, but John and Helen escape to Chicago. In Jul 1934, after months of hiding out, John, for whom a $15,000 reward has been posted, goes out with Helen to a film. Unaware that Helen, who is wearing a distinctive red dress, has set him up, John exits the theater with his guard down and is cornered by FBI agents. Although he tries to shoot his way out, John is gunned down, and when the agents go through his belongings, they discover that he has only $7.20 to his name.