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In a Midwestern city, prosecutor Johnny Conroy oversees a government committee charged with investigating Neil Eichelberger, who is suspected of using his trucking company and other legitimate businesses as a front for various criminal activities. Assigned to cover the investigation, tough reporter Jerry McKibbon warns Johnny, a childhood friend, about the dangers inherent in his public crusade, but Johnny assures him he is up to the job. Jerry accompanies Johnny to his parents' home and hears Johnny inform his father Matt, a police detective, that he has arranged his appointment as the committee's lead investigator. To Johnny's surprise, Matt forcibly rejects the post, and later, a suspicious Jerry tails Matt and a gangster named Harrigan to Eichelberger's trucking company. The next day, during the committee's hearings, Johnny drills Joe Silbray, a former policeman, about his participation in a gang-related murder while on the force and his subsequent hiring by Eichelberger. Silbray denies any wrongdoing, but Johnny, who has stated that he would rather expose one "crooked cop" than a hundred gangsters, decides to bring in Mrs. Manzinates, the murder victim's mother, whose whereabouts the committee has just discovered. Jerry then observes Matt, who has changed his mind about helping the investigation, slip out of Johnny's office to make a phone call and advises Johnny to double-check everyone on the committee's payroll. Later, Amanda "Mandy" Waycross, Johnny's girl friend and secretary, drops by Jerry's apartment and demands to know what he is hiding from Johnny. Jerry, who is attracted to the well-to-do Mandy, ducks the question and instead criticizes her naivete. In turn, Mandy denounces Jerry's cynicism and his superior attitude toward the idealistic Johnny. With Mandy in tow, Jerry heads for Mrs. Manzinates' apartment, arriving just as several of Eichelberger's thugs are exiting the building, having reached an "understanding" with the old woman about her testimony. After explaining to a startled Mandy that Mrs. Manzinates just bought some "insurance," Jerry visits Matt at home. Jerry accuses Matt of tipping off Eichelberger about Mrs. Manzinates and gives him twenty-four hours to straighten himself out. Although he denies Jerry's charges, Matt goes to see Eichelberger, demanding to be cut loose from the gangster's operation. Eichelberger refuses, but instructs his cohorts to keep an eye on the detective. Later, during a party at Mandy's, Matt confesses to Jerry that he started working for Eichelberger years before, when he needed money to send Johnny to college. Sympathetic, Jerry suggests that Matt photocopy an incriminating police file that Eichelberger has requested he steal that night and pass it on to Johnny. After Matt asks Buck, the police records clerk, to break regulations and copy the file, the crooked Buck telephones Harrigan. That night, at her apartment, Mandy explains to Jerry that she admires Johnny and is grateful for a chance to help him, but does not reciprocate his love. Finally giving in to their feelings, Jerry and Mandy kiss. The next day, after delivering the file to Harrigan, Matt is instructed to meet Eichelberger at a filling station, but instead is gunned down by Monty LaRue, one of his thugs, during a phony robbery attempt. In turn, the thug is shot and killed by another Eichelberger gunman, and Matt is declared a heroic victim. Later, Jerry tells Mandy the truth about Matt, and when Johnny sees her crying on Jerry's shoulder, he understands that he has lost her. Despite his grief, Johnny pushes ahead with the hearing and questions Eichelberger about his sources of income. Eichelberger maneuvers skillfully around the queries, but Doc, one of Eichelberger's bookies, struggles to answer Johnny's questions about his involvement with Arco Securities, Eichelberger's stock company. Realizing that Johnny is scheming to expose Arco as his money laundering front, Eichelberger orders the company's records, along with the building, destroyed. After an explosion rocks the building and many residents are killed or maimed, Johnny's faith in his investigation wavers. Jerry urges him to continue and finally tells him the truth about his father. Not wanting to hurt his mother by revealing his father's crimes, Johnny insists on quitting, until Mandy declares that by giving up, he will send the wrong message and will someday regret his decision. When Jerry's story about Matt's murder hits the newspapers, LaRue's wife Carmelina realizes that her husband also was set up and, enraged, calls Jerry. Carmelina meets with Jerry at a cafe and is about to identify the men who hired LaRue when she sees Eichelberger's thugs walk in. Carmelina flees, as Jerry fights the men off. Later, while Johnny and the police try to track down Carmelina, Jerry receives a call from a man claiming to be Carmelina's friend. Jerry agrees to meet the man at a boxing arena, unaware that Eichelberger's lieutenant, Roy Ackerman, has hired Red, a hit man, to kill him. Carmelina, meanwhile, finally appears at the committee's headquarters and reveals all. As Johnny leaves to make some arrests, Mandy learns that Jerry is at the arena and rushes there. Suspicious, Fogel, another committee member, sends the police to the arena, and they arrive just as Jerry is shot by Red. The gunman then is shot by the police, while at Eichelberger's trucking company, the racketeer and his cronies are arrested by Johnny. Later, at the arena, after Mandy tearfully informs Johnny that Jerry has died, Johnny quotes Jerry, noting that "sometimes someone has to pay an exorbitant price to uphold the majesty of the law."