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In New York's Bowery, landlady Mrs. Kate Kelly encourages her star boarder, Horace DeBussy "Sach" Jones, in his pursuit of becoming an artistic photographer and inventor of unusual cameras. When fellow boarder Danny comes home after his boss fires him for being in the stockroom when $200 was stolen from the store cash register, Sach and their pal, Stanislaus "Duke" Coveleskie, go to newspaper editor Ray Vance, hoping to win the money in the paper's photography contest. The contest has been over for six months, but because Vance is desperate to get a photograph of notorious mobster Frankie Arbo, and his own photographer is injured, he hires Sach and agrees to give him a $200 advance. The boys take a hotel room across the street from Arbo's and spy on him and his girl friend, Mae Randall, but their attempts to get an incriminating picture are foiled by Sach's bumbling. After talking things over with Danny and their friend Chuck Anderson, Duke hatches a plan for an undercover operation. Disguised as a goatee-wearing French decorator, Sach goes to Mae's apartment and says the management has hired him. While Mae is trying to decide upon a color scheme, Sach suggests asking her boyfriend for advice, and a few minutes later, Frankie comes to the apartment, accompanied by cohort Chips Conroy. While Frankie tells Mae that he and Chips are working on a big deal, Sach quickly takes a flash photograph, after which the enraged Frankie and Chips go after him and Duke. With the aid of a sliding-door closet, the boys narrowly escape, then go to Vance, who is being pressured by his boss to get an incriminating photo of Frankie. Vance is delighted that Sach and Duke have pictures, but when Sach accidentally exposes the role of film, Vance throws them out of the office. Back at the boardinghouse, Sach is perfecting a new camera concealed inside a high-flame lighter when Danny and Chuck, who, on Duke's instructions, were following Frankie, report that he has gone to the Hula Hut, a Westchester nightclub he now owns. Because Danny's boss has refused to rehire him, despite Danny's giving him Sach's $200, Danny has taken a job as a waiter at the Hula Hut. Sometime later, Danny is clearing dishes in Frankie's office when he overhears Frankie's conversation with Chicago gangster Vic Savigne. Danny learns that gangster Handsome Hal Lomax is coming to New York that afternoon and that neither Frankie nor Chips knows what he looks like. After Duke obtains a photograph of Hal, he and Sach pick Hal up at the airport and take him back to the boardinghouse. They enlist Mrs. Kelly to pretend she runs the boardinghouse as a hideout for local gangsters and use a radio set up by Chuck to broadcast phony news reports that Hal has been seen nearby. After observing Hal's pronounced tics and hypochondria, Sach tells him he must stay in the boardinghouse to elude the police, then secretly calls Vance to tell him they are working on a big scoop and will have lots of pictures for him. Pretending to be Hal, and accompanied by Duke, Sach goes to the Hula Hut to meet Frankie. Despite his exaggerated impersonation, Sach convinces Frankie that he is Hal and takes photographs of him, Chips and their cohorts with his camera lighter. Now Frankie reveals that he has a large supply of excellent-quality counterfeit twenty dollar bills that he will sell to them for twenty percent of face value. As Sach is examining the phony bills, Vic calls from Chicago and asks to speak with Hal. The nervous Sach pretends to have a cold, so Vic does not recognize that he is not the real Hal and warns him that Hal's jealous ex-girl friend, Dolly Tate, has left for New York. Meanwhile, at the boardinghouse, the real Hal leaves his room to make a phone call and sees Chuck as he is broadcasting another phony news report. Hal pulls a gun on Chuck, but flees the boardinghouse when Mrs. Kelly confronts him with an old shotgun that accidentally discharges At the Hula Hut, Frankie is becoming suspicious of Sach when he fails to recognize counterfeiter Otto Brock, whom he had previously said he knew. At that moment, the real Hal comes to the club and demands that Mae let him in to see Frankie. Frankie determines to find out who the imposter is just as Dolly arrives at the club. Learning what is going on from Frankie, Dolly says that she will point out the real Hal, but inside the office, while Hal pleads with her to identify him, she throws her arms about Sach. As Frankie's cohorts start to drag the real Hal away, Sach asks Dolly if he may take her picture for his album. Her amazement at his lighter camera attracts Frankie's attention, after which he and the others chase after Duke and Sach. The boys hide in the counterfeiting room and close its secret panels. Each time the gangsters open the panels, Sach pelts them with a coconut catapulted from Brock's printing press. Soon the police arrive, having been alerted by Danny. After the police take away the gangsters and their girl friends, Danny, Vance and Chuck find Sach and Duke behind the panels. Despite the fact that Sach has hit him in the head with a coconut, Vance is overjoyed to learn that Sach has gotten the incriminating photographs. However, when Sach accidentally exposes the film, Vance and Duke grab machetes from a wall decoration and chase after him. The next day, Duke and Sach are working at their new jobs for Vance, selling newspapers outside the building.