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One night, as the nagging voice of his mother-in-law taunts him, Johnny Kelly contemplates leaving his rewardless career as a second generation Chicago cop and his loving wife, whom he resents for earning more than he does. After writing a letter of resignation, Johnny proceeds to the Silver Frolic nightclub to see Sally "Angel Face" Connors, a young, but hardened, honkytonk dancer whom he strings along with dreams of a new life in California. Infatuated with Johnny and his escape plans, Sally has given notice at the nightclub, and remains unmoved by the adoration of a fellow performer, Gregg Warren, who endures his humiliating job as a mechanical man in the nightclub's front window by daydreaming about life with Sally in exotic places. During Johnny's shift that night, a mysterious and philosophical sebidrgeant, wanting to be called simply "Joe," waits for him in the patrol car. As they respond to the emergencies of the evening, Joe points out the importance of policemen to the people of the city, but Johnny intimates that he joined the force to please his father and plans to quit, then gives Joe his resignation notice to turn in. Needing money for his California venture, Johnny has secretly made a deal with corrupt criminal lawyer Penrod Biddel, and asks Joe to wait in the car while he visits him. Inside, Biddel says he wants Johnny to "arrest" his henchman, Hayes Stewart, and take him to Indiana, where he is wanted for manslaughter. Biddel explains that the ambitious Hayes is trying to steal incriminating documents to blackmail him. Johnny is willing to perform the deed anytime after that evening, when he is no longer in uniform, but Biddel insists that it must be done immediately and warns Johnny that his younger brother Stubby has been hanging around Hayes and learning the ways of criminals. Later in the patrol car, Joe and Johnny respond to a break-in report at Biddel's office building, but find nothing amiss. Hayes, having evaded Joe and Johnny, makes a phone call, saying that he remains empty-handed, but later confronts Biddel, claiming to have documents from Biddel's bedroom safe, which he acquired through an accomplice. He blackmails Biddel for a large sum of money to be delivered within two hours to his hotel room. Meanwhile, Johnny's wife Kathy senses his restlessness and confides in Johnny's father, John, Sr., a twenty-seven-year veteran of the force, that she plans to quit her job, as her higher salary seems to hurt Johnny's pride. At the nightclub, meanwhile, Gregg asks Sally to join him in a comedy act, but Sally is distracted by the appearance of Biddel, who wants to reach Johnny. Biddel then meets Hayes, and learns that Hayes's "accomplice" is Biddel's wife Lydia. He pulls a gun, but is himself shot and left for dead. Learning about Johnny's "errand" through Lydia, Hayes decides to go to the Silver Frolic. When Johnny and Joe respond to a call about gunshots in the hotel, Biddel names Hayes as the shooter and directs Johnny to the nightclub. After Johnny radios the information to the police dispatcher, John, Sr. proceeds to the club, where Lydia, who is unhappy that Biddel was harmed, points out Hayes. As John, Sr. makes the arrest, Hayes mistakes him for his son, then shoots him. After escaping, Hayes shoots Lydia in front of the horrified Stubby, who was waiting for him outside the nightclub, and Gregg, who is performing in the nightclub window. Johnny arrives in time to hear his father's dying words, then, struggling with emotion, questions Gregg about Hayes's whereabouts. Gregg, however, is reluctant to talk until Sally explains that Johnny's father has died. Gregg admits that, as witness to the crime, he expects Hayes will return for him, and offers to serve as decoy, while Johnny stakes out the building. For the first time, Gregg has Sally's attention and she begs him not to risk his life. When he enters the window to begin his mechanical man routine, she tells him through the curtain that she wants to become his partner. As Gregg predicted, Hayes is watching and trying to determine whether Gregg is a live witness or just a robot. After two passersby exclaim that the mechanical man is crying, Hayes shoots, but Gregg dodges the bullet. Before escaping, Hayes knocks out Stubby, but Johnny finds his brother and sends him to safety. Joe radios for help, and more policemen arrive to set up roadblocks. Johnny chases Hayes through alleys and city streets, but at a railway yard, Hayes climbs the El, and while fighting off Johnny, falls on a wire and is electrocuted. Later, at the station, Johnny's police badge, discarded during the chase, is returned to him and he puts it on. The mysterious Joe has gone and Johnny's resignation letter lies on the patrol car seat. As the day dawns and his shift ends, Johnny returns home to Kathy.