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In the suburbs of Indianapolis, Indiana, the Hilliard family¿father Dan, mother Eleanor, nineteen-year-old daughter Cindy and young son Ralphie¿start their weekday in typical fashion. After Ralphie leaves for school, and Dan, a department store executive, drives to work with Cindy, Eleanor cleans house while listening to a radio broadcast about three escaped convicts. Unknown to her, the convicts, led by Glenn Griffin, a vicious criminal with a vendetta against sheriff's deputy Jesse Bard, are at that moment driving down her street. Noting Ralphie's bicycle in the front yard, Glenn decides to hide out in the Hilliards' house, and he and his cohorts¿younger brother Hal and the dimwitted but brutal Samuel H. Kobish¿take Eleanor by surprise and stash their getaway car in the garage. Jesse, meanwhile, learns of the escape and joins FBI agent Carson to deduce the convicts' whereabouts. At the Hilliards', Glenn, who possesses the convicts' only weapon, pressures Eleanor into revealing where Dan stores his gun. Glenn then makes Eleanor place a long-distance phone call using a phony name, and talks with girl friend Helen Miller about delivering some money to the house that night. Later, Dan and Cindy return home and are horrified to discover Eleanor being held at gunpoint by Glenn. After Glenn explains to Dan that he and the others will leave peacefully once the money arrives, Ralphie shows up and is terrorized by Kobish. Dan instinctively lunges for the convict but is struck and subdued by Glenn. Later, Ralphie questions his father about an escape plan and is disappointed when Dan admits he is afraid. Jesse and the police, meanwhile, discover Helen's location and send out an alert to have her followed, but not apprehended. At the Hilliards', Cindy's boyfriend Chuck telephones to announce he is coming over. Before Chuck arrives, Glenn sends Dan to the nearest gas station for gas, bourbon and a newspaper, warning him not to do anything that would endanger his family. While Cindy takes a drive with Chuck and pretends all is well, Dan contemplates phoning the police at the gas station, but instead presents Glenn with two bottles of bourbon. Realizing Dan wants to get him drunk, Glenn smashes one bottle and warns Dan not to "think too much." After saying goodnight to Chuck, who assumes that her tenseness is due to her father's disapproval of him, Cindy is accosted by Kobish. Hal, who is attracted to Cindy, stops the unarmed Kobish, and Kobish storms off in frustration. Worried about Kobish's erractic behavior, Glenn follows him outside and knocks him out, and while he is gone, Cindy pretends to faint in the foyer. When Hal bends over to help her, Cindy bites his hand, and Dan grabs his gun and pushes him out the door. The Hilliards' victory is short-lived, however, as gun-wielding Glenn catches Ralphie climbing out his bedroom window and reclaims control of the situation. At the sheriff's station, meanwhile, Jesse and Carson learn that Helen was stopped briefly for a traffic violation outside Columbus, Ohio, and is no longer driving west. Upset, Jesse has all long-distance phone calls between Columbus and Indianapolis monitored. At the Hilliards', Glenn receives a call from Helen, who is holed up outside Columbus, and arranges to send him the money special delivery. The next morning, Glenn orders Dan and Cindy to go to work, but insists that Ralphie stay home. Before Dan and Cindy depart, Glenn announces that Helen is sending the money to Dan's office and warns him again not to try anything. In the car, Cindy questions whether they should contact the police, but Dan insists they cannot take chances. Back at the Hilliards', trashman George Patterson shows up to collect the garbage and notices the convicts' beat-up car in the garage. Glenn sees George studying the vehicle and orders Kobish to jump on the back of the trashman's departing truck. Kobish soon hijacks George and forces him at gunpoint to drive to the countryside. Fearing the worst, George jumps from the moving truck, which then crashes, but Kobish scrambles out of the wreck and shoots George. Dan, meanwhile, waits nervously for his mail and arranges for a note to be delivered to the neighborhood police station. From a golf course, Kobish telephones Dan at work and threatens to shoot up the place unless Dan picks him up. Dan arrives home with Kobish and finds Miss Swift, Ralphie's teacher, chatting with Eleanor, while Glenn and Hal hide. Sure that Ralphie has tried to slip Miss Swift a plea for help, Dan prevents her from leaving with Ralphie's composition book. Dan then persuades Glenn to use him as a hostage once they leave the house, instead of his family. Having discovered George's body, Jesse, Carson and the police, meanwhile, deduce the convicts' general location based on George's trash route, and set up headquarters at a neighborhood diner. When Jesse receives Dan's unsigned note, which alerts the police to the family's plight without revealing their location, Jesse and acting sheriff Fredericks argue about how to handle the criminals. Later, Chuck drops Cindy off at home, but worried, circles the block in his car. Fearful and guilt-ridden, Hal finally tells Glenn he is taking off, and although he disagrees with his brother's decision, Glenn gives Hal some money. Hal hijacks a car and when he hears on the radio that the police have narrowed their search area, forces the driver to stop at a restaurant. Before he can warn Glenn by phone, Hal encounters an armed deputy and shoots him in a panic. Hal then dashes across the road and is struck and killed by a truck. At the same time, Dan learns that Helen's letter has arrived and takes a taxi to the store. The police then catch Chuck circling the area and bring him to the diner just as word comes that Hal's body has been identified and his gun, traced to the Hilliards'. Deeply concerned, Chuck telephones Cindy and, without revealing anything, tells her to expect him. At the front door, Chuck yanks Cindy outside before Glenn can react and drives off with her. A taxi then drops off Dan a block from his house, and he is intercepted by police, who are operating out of a neighbors' attic. Although Dan wants to give Glenn the money to assure his family's safety, Sheriff Masters, who has just arrived on the scene, orders the house be stormed. With Jesse's blessing, Carson overrules Masters and gives Dan a gun, which Dan then empties. Glenn soon finds the gun on Dan and goes upstairs to retrieve Eleanor and Ralphie, whom he has decided to take with him. After startling Kobish, Dan slams the door on his hand, grabs his gun and pushes him outside, where he is shot by police snipers. Dan instructs Eleanor to run next door, then confronts Glenn, who is holding Ralphie at gunpoint. When, at Dan's urging, Ralphie runs to his father's arms, Glenn fires his gun but discovers too late that it is empty. With Ralphie safe, Dan contemplates shooting Glenn, but instead tosses him down the stairs. Outside, Glenn attempts to trick the police and is gunned down in a hail of bullets. Later, their ordeal finally over, the Hilliards embrace and retreat to their reclaimed home.