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Tommy McGrath, a young, tough small-time New York hood, pulls small jobs with his dim-witted pal, Fats Moody, until a criminal with a large bankroll induces them to help rob a warehouse. In the midst of the robbery, the police arrive and capture Tommy, but he manages to break free. Tommy, who has been recognized by the police, escapes on a freight train with the loyal Fats. After they jump off, they get a ride with Reginald Burley, an elderly actor working in the Federal Theater, who awaits the revival of vaudeville. Reginald's partner, Fleurette Varden, who has refused to marry him, gives the boys dinner and suggests that Tommy get a job. Tommy's opinion, however, is that only "suckers" work. The next day, as Tommy and Fats prepare to leave, Fleurette cannot find her coin purse to give them money, so she gets some from Reginald for them. On the road, they come to a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, where they hide out using the names of the actors, Burley and Varden. Tommy negligently starts a small fire after lighting a cigarette and challenges his work-detail boss, Mike Farrell, to a fight when Farrell reprimands him. Farrell says that there is a restriction against fighting and sends in a report about Tommy, who is then forced to peel potatoes. On leave in the nearby town, Tommy tries to pick up Joan Martin, but she socks him. However, when Deputy Sheriff Joe Waters asks if Tommy and Fats are bothering her, she says no. Tommy thanks her and tells her about the upcoming dance at the camp. When Tommy disrupts studying, Regan, the boy in charge, challenges him to a boxing match. After Regan knocks Tommy out, Tommy refuses to apologize, so Regan knocks him out two more times in the next two days. With new respect for Regan, Tommy says he will give studying a try. Following the dance, Joan invites Tommy to dinner at her house, and her father promises to try to get him appointed to the Forest Service, if he studies and passes the required exam. After her father leaves them, Joan reveals that he is the town sheriff. Later, as Tommy and Joan sing at a camp talent show, Reginald and Fleurette visit and introduce themselves as Fats's father and Tommy's mother. Fleurette reveals that each boy has sent them twenty-five dollars a month, which they, as "parents," have put into the bank for them. She also announces that they have decided to marry. When Tommy sees Farrell push Crack-Up, a deranged man who claims to own all the land, Tommy criticizes Farrell, who challenges him to fight. Farrell's body is found after the fight, and when a warrant for Tommy's arrest is sworn out, Joan takes him to hide out in her father's cabin. Joe finds Tommy there, but Tommy knocks him out, and Joe's head hits a bed post. Tommy sees Crack-Up setting the woods on fire and tries to smother it, but Crack-Up shoots him in the arm. The fire spreads rapidly, and Tommy reports it to the Forest Service, before carrying Joe out with Joan. Fats, finding them, saves them when a burning tree is about to fall, and he is killed himself. With Joe still unconscious, Tommy and Joan float down a river, and before he faints from his wound, Tommy sends Joan for help. Later, as Tommy recovers, Joe greets him and says that Crack-Up killed Farrell. He reveals that he knows Tommy's real identity, but that his past is cleared up. As a boy plays "Taps" in honor of Fats, Tommy says that Fats would have gotten a big "kick" out of it if he could have heard it.