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Hoodlum Martin Rome, who has killed a policeman during a robbery, is in a hospital prison ward about to be operated on, and is being prayed over by his parents, brothers and sisters and a priest. New York City police lieutenants Vittorio Candella, who grew up in the same Italian neighborhood as Rome, and Jim Collins wait outside to question him. Niles, a lawyer, also wants to see Rome to ask him to confess to his involvement in the killing of a Mrs. de Grazia and thereby save an innocent man who has been arrested for the crime. Rome refuses to cooperate, but later, as he recovers from the surgery, Candella interrogates him about a ring found in his possession, a ring stolen from Mrs. de Grazia, who was tortured until she revealed the whereabouts of her jewels and was then strangled. Although Rome is headed for the electric chair for killing the police officer, he denies involvement in the de Grazia murder and says he won the ring in a crap game. After Candella leaves, Rome asks his middle-aged nurse, Miss Francis Pruett, to take a note to his girl friend, Teena Riconti, telling her to go into hiding as she may be arrested as an accomplice. When Niles offers to defend Rome in exchange for his confession to the de Grazia killing, Rome again refuses. Candella then visits Rome's parents, whom he knows, looking for information about Rome's girl friends. Meanwhile, Rome has been moved to a prison, where a trusty offers to help him escape. After Rome escapes from his cell by means of a duplicate key, Candella and Collins are tipped off that Rome is at Teena's place, but find only his younger brother Tony there. Rome goes to Niles' office, threatens him with a knife and, while looking for cash in his safe, discovers the de Grazia jewels in a hidden compartment. Niles tries to shoot Rome but accidentally shoots his secretary and is stabbed to death by Rome, who takes the jewels and a gun and heads to his parents' place. Although his father disowns him, his mother tries to help but cannot understand why he kills. Another of Rome's girl friends, Brenda, drives Rome to meet a Madam Rose, but as he is still suffering from the after-effects of the surgery, he passes out en route. Brenda locates an unlicensed doctor, Dr. Veroff, who treats him as they drive around. Rome tells Rose he knows she was in on the de Grazia job and that Niles gave him the jewels, which he now wants to trade for a car, $5,000 and a way out of the country. Rose agrees to meet him the next day to make the exchange. Meanwhile, Candella questions several unlicensed doctors, including Veroff, who admits he treated Rome. Rome phones Candella at police headquarters in an attempt to double-cross Rose, but when Rose and Rome meet, she draws a gun on him and together they go to a locker in a subway station where Rose is arrested by two plainclothesmen. During the ensuing fracas, Rose accidentally shoots Candella and Rome escapes. Later, Lt. Collins discovers that Candella has walked out of the hospital where he was being treated and has gone to Miss Pruett's house, looking for Teena. She, however, has left to meet Rome at a church. Rome, meanwhile, asks Tony to take their mother's savings money and bring it to him. When Rome tells Teena that they are going to leave the country, she responds that she no longer loves him and will not go with him. Candella then finds them, and after telling Teena to go home, prepares to take Rome in. As they leave the church, Rome hands his gun to Candella but then slugs the ailing cop and limps away. Candella shoots him, and Tony returns to find his brother dead. As the police arrive, Tony confesses that he could not steal from his mother, and after he helps Candella into a police car, he cries.