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Having fled Memphis, Tennessee, to start a new life, smalltime fugitive Bad News Johnson and his slow-witted companion, July Jones, arrive in Dallas with no place to stay and only twenty-five cents to their name. Johnson explains to July that they are taking the advice of the great thinker Horace Greeley, who said, "Go west young man, and do your best; then come east and spend your grease." When Johnson realizes that July does not understand the quote, he tells July that he is so dumb that he probably thinks that "Veronica Lake is some kinda' summer resort." Using his charm and graciousness, mixed in with a touch of pure deception, Johnson procures a room for himself and July at the home of the Holiday family. Mrs. Louella "Mama Lou" Holiday is at first reluctant take in two strangers as boarders, but when Johnson, who has introduced himself as Mr. Whitney Vanderbilt, impresses her as a great "thespian," she, in the hope that he will tutor her daughter Honey Dew in poise, decides to give them a room. Johnson and July, who is now known as Mr. Green, gladly accept the offer. Meanwhile, Mama Lou's lazy husband, Papa Sam, who was sent by his wife on an errand to the market, is instead at Johnny's Juke Joint playing poker with his pals. Papa Sam's daughter Florida, also at the juke joint, is being pursued by Johnny, the owner of the establishment, who wants to take her to Chicago. When Papa Sam returns home without the food he was sent to get, Mama Lou scolds him until Honey Dew breaks up the fight. Back at the juke joint, while Florida considers Johnny's offer, he calls his wife and tells her that he will be home late. After Johnson and July enjoy their first dinner at the Holidays, Johnson gives Honey Dew lessons on how to carry herself at the beauty contest she has entered, while Florida is told to do the dishes. Johnson's lessons are proven valuable when Honey Dew wins first prize in the contest. Backstage at the contest, Papa Sam's buddy, "High Life" Harris, suggests that Honey Dew be taken to the juke joint to celebrate her success, and Papa Sam agrees. When Mama Lou returns home to find that her husband and Florida, who was given the responsibility of preparing the house for a party, are missing, she marches over to Johnny's with an umbrella in hand and takes swings at Harris, Johnny and Florida. Mama Lou then discovers Papa Sam kissing a waitress outside the juke joint and pounces on him. At home, Mama Lou gives Florida one last beating to punish her for her actions as Johnson and July watch through a keyhole.