powered by AFI
In 1909, at the Saratoga racetrack, gambler Murray Golden convinces the man at the betting window to trust him for a $200 bet on the strength of a telegram sent to him purportedly by multi-millionaire Harry Payne Whitney, which gives a tip on a horse. Murray, in fact, earlier composed the wire himself. Although the horse does not win, Murray invites the party he is with to join him in a celebration. One of the women in the party, Virginia, decides to marry Murray, although she has no idea how he makes his money. Murray has ambitions of hobnobbing with the leaders of society, and he lives by the creed that one should do anything one can get away with. In 1914, on their fifth anniversary, Murray, who now runs a successful gambling house in New York, promises Virginia, who is bored and lonesome, that he will quit the business as soon as he has made $500,000. That night, Murray meets cabaret singer Peggy Warren, the girl friend of Al Mositer, a gangster whom he orders to leave, and at her instigation, they begin an affair. Although the evening's winnings put Murray's income over $500,000, he tells Virginia that he wants to continue until he makes "real" money so that he can do other things. By 1919, Murray has given Peggy a $100,000 trust fund and a Park Avenue apartment, but he remains in love with Virginia. Upon learning that Mositer has fixed a championship fight by paying one of the fighters, Eddie Traylor, to take a dive, Murray pays the other fighter, George Curtis, to go down in an earlier round and then places a bet with Mositer. After the fight goes the way Murray planned, Virginia, who has attended with a friend, overhears talk that Peggy has been Murray's girl friend for years. She starts to pack, but Murray convinces her that his cohort Freddie is the man involved with Peggy. Murray then promises to quit gambling and go into the insurance business. During their discussion, Murray gets a call telling him that Traylor has been found murdered. Five years later, Curtis, who was broken up by Traylor's death, is an alcoholic. After Mositer tricks him into admitting that Murray convinced him to take a dive, Mositer vows revenge. As Murray, now ostensibly in the insurance business, visits his boyhood friend, Tommy Doran, who is now a police detective, to try to bribe him for a client, he gets a call from Freddie telling him that Virginia has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom by Mositer. Murray orders Freddie to pay anything and hurries back to town in a cab with Peggy. He urges the driver to speed, and the cab crashes into a truck killing Peggy. Virginia, who is released unharmed, tells Murray that she will seek a divorce in Paris to regain her self-respect. In 1928, Murray, nearly broke, loses $50,000 to Mositer in a card game. When he gets a telegram that Virginia is returning from Europe, he thinks she is coming back to him. Feeling that his luck is changing, he pawns her jewelry, which he has kept in the safe-deposit box, to gamble in a crap game. Virginia tells him that she is marrying another man and that she came back to get her jewelry. Still in love with her, Murray promises to get the jewelry back. He takes out an insurance policy, and then tries to win the money to buy back the jewelry from Mositer in a crap game, but loses over $200,000 to him. When Murray tells Mositer that he is going to reveal to the district attorney that Mositer killed Traylor, Mositer shoots Murray, who then confesses that he arranged to die so that should he lose, the insurance money could be used to buy back Virginia's jewelry. Tommy brings Virginia to Murray's hospital room and encourages her to lie to him. After she tells Murray that she's coming back to him, Murray dies.