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In 1910, Buck Rankin, owner of a crooked carnival, convinces the reluctant Helen, a local woman he has met, to marry him. Buck plans to sell the show for $10,000, but a fight breaks out at the carnival and a riot ensues. Buck is convicted of manslaughter for the death of a man accidentally killed during the riot, and he receives a twenty year sentence. Eight months later, Helen comes to see him, and after he urges her to get a divorce, she informs him that she is pregnant. Determined to force Helen to find happiness elsewhere, Buck forges a note from the warden saying he died in the whirlpool outside the prison while attempting to escape. Buck is released in 1929 and reunites with his old carnival buddy, Mac. By 1934, Buck is an important nightclub owner, using the alias Duke Sheldon. Buck is scheduled to fly to New York to provide an alibi for gangster Big Time Kelly, and the Morning Globe assigns reporter Sandra Morrison to the story. However, when Buck arrives at the club, Sandra recognizes him from a picture her mother has kept, then notices that he is wearing a ring identical to one she has. Sandy explains to Buck that she is his daughter. Knowing that Helen would see the publicity if he appeared in the Kelly trial, Buck cancels his trip to spare Helen's reputation. Sandy secures a new assignment from the editor, but her fiancée, Bob Andrews, is assigned to follow Buck, and is soon jealous from seeing Sandy and Buck together constantly. Also jealous of Sandy is Thelma, a singer in Buck's club. Barney Gaige, a shyster lawyer, tries to get Buck to testify for Kelly, but his efforts are futile. Through Thelma, Barney learns about Buck's past and blackmails him with exposure unless he testifies. Buck shoots Barney, then sends Mac, Sandy and Bob away. As the police arrive, Buck destroys all evidence of his relationship with Helen, then turns the gun on himself. Sadly, Bob and Sandy cannot tell Helen the truth about the death of "racketeer" Duke Sheldon, which she reads about in the newspaper.