powered by AFI
One night in Chicago, juvenile delinquent Jamie Ellison and his friends¿Pete Johnson, Marty and Frank¿decide to go cruising. They intimidate Pop, the alcoholic attendant at a parking garage, into giving them a sedan, and then begin driving aimlessly. When they spot a young couple, Sam and Anne Bennett, leaving a friend's house, Jamie throws a bottle of whiskey at them. The bottle hits the Bennetts' infant son Johnny, who is gravely injured. Capt. Tom Lynn and his partner, Matt, investigate and suspect that the group involved is the same "wolf pack," as the young criminal gangs are called, that beat up a man named Brennan earlier in the week. Tom is deeply concerned about the problem of juvenile delinquency, and wonders how he can help the youthful offenders before they get into trouble. Sam gives a description of the car driven by the culprits, and states that he could recognize the youth who threw the bottle. Soon after, in addition to searching for the car, the police begin a major crackdown on suspicious youths. Sam attends several lineups but does not find the offenders, and as Johnny's condition worsens, Sam lashes out at Tom, demanding immediate action. Tom warns Sam not to become a vigilante and sink to the level of those he is chasing by using violence. As they are talking, Tom receives a phone call that the youth who owns the automobile involved in the incident has been apprehended. Although Sam does not recognize the teenager, Willie Hanson, he is convinced that the car is the right one. Tom questions Willie, who protests that he was ill at home at the time of the attack on Johnny, and during the earlier attack on Brennan. Tom visits Willie's tenement apartment to question his parents, who are incapable of offering Willie any real guidance due to their own problems. Tom then discusses the situation with Miss Lovitz, the Hansons' social worker, who verifies that a doctor saw Willie. After Pop lies, stating that Willie's car was at the lot the entire week, Tom releases Willie due to lack of evidence. Sam, who is at the police station, is infuriated, and attacks Willie with a tire iron. Tom pulls Sam off Willie before he seriously harms him, and after another warning, lets him go. Determined to pursue the case, Sam, using the name Bill Holland, parks his car at Pop's lot and spends several days watching the area. When nothing happens, Sam goes to a nearby gas station, where he strikes up a friendly conversation with the attendant. Sam learns that Willie's sedan had been driven by four youths the night of the attack, and that the young men hang out at a social club. As Sam drives by the club, he sees Jamie's girl friend Tess exit and go to her waitressing job at a diner next door. Tess is immediately interested in the handsome, slightly older Sam, who mentions that he is looking for a place to stay in the neighborhood. Tess tells him that there is a room available in her boardinghouse, and the couple makes a date for that evening. That night, Tess takes Sam to a jazz club and is puzzled when, instead of paying attention to her, he gazes at the crowd intensely, as if looking for someone. Meanwhile, Tom has grown worried about Sam, who has not been seen in several days. Tom questions Anne, who is deeply depressed, and reveals that when his own young son was killed, it was only by grieving together that he and his wife were able to overcome the tragedy. Hoping to strengthen her marriage, Anne cleans herself up in case Sam comes home. At the police station, Matt brings in Sam, who bitterly tells Tom that he can handle himself when Tom lectures him about the dangers of investigating on his own. Sam then stops by his home to pick up a gun and, angry that Anne is "prettied up" while their son is in mortal danger, smears off her lipstick. Just then, the couple receives a phone call telling them that Johnny has died, and although Anne pleads with Sam to stay, he walks out, slugging the waiting Tom as he does so. Tom then orders that Sam's picture be broadcast on television with a request for information about his location. Back at police headquarters, a laboratory technician has reconstructed the bottle thrown at Johnny and retrieved Pete's fingerprints from it. While Pete is picked up for questioning, an unsuspecting Tess takes Sam to a dance being held at the social club. When Tess kisses Sam, however, he pulls away and tells her that he cannot reciprocate her feelings. Believing that Sam led her on, Tess feels betrayed and joins Jamie when he arrives. At the police station, Anne pleads with Pete to reveal the names of his cohorts, and Pete, full of remorse for Johnny's death, tells Tom where to find the others. At the club, Sam invites Jamie, Pete and Frank to join him in crashing a fraternity party, but as they are leaving, Pop, who has seen the television broadcast of Sam's picture, informs Jamie who he really is. Fearing that Sam is entrapping them, Jamie knocks him out and orders Pete and Frank to drive them to the lumberyard. Tom and Matt arrive at the club just as Jamie leaves, and Tom questions Tess about the night's events. When Tess learns Sam's true identity, she is even more hurt that he used her merely as an introduction to the boys. Tess eventually relents, however, telling Tom that the young men were headed for a fraternity. A sweep of the university proves fruitless, and it is not until a passing policemen hears a shot ring out from the lumberyard that the gang is located. Jamie intends to toss the unconscious Sam into the incinerator, but Marty protests, and as he flees the scene, Jamie shoots him in the back. Sam then regains consciousness and a fierce struggle ensues between the three remaining men. Sam knocks out Frank, then engages in a fistfight with Jamie on a catwalk. Jamie falls to the ground as the police arrive, and Tom stops Sam from shooting Jamie. Tom then asks Jamie why he is so mad at the world, and as he is dying, Jamie states that you have to take what you want in life, because no one will give you anything for free. After Jamie dies, Anne arrives and rushes into Sam's arms. Tom and Matt then walk away as they watch the reunited couple embrace.