Cast & Crew
In downtown Los Angeles, when a fire breaks out at the Harris Warehouse, Inspector Johnny Broderick of the arson squad comes to investigate. Among the crowd watching the fire is small-time felon Pop Bergen, who grows uneasy when approached by con man Foxy Gilbert. After suggesting that Pop had a role in starting the blaze, Foxy follows him from the scene and witnesses the older man drive away with shady lawyer William Yarbo. Meanwhile on the top floor of the warehouse, fire chief Boswell shows Johnny and his assistant, Ben Howard, the remains of a crude time bomb indicating the fire was started intentionally. Back down on the street, Johnny meets Keely Harris, the daughter of the deceased building owner, who has been summoned by the police. Keely is stunned to learn the fire was set deliberately, but grows angry when Johnny suggests that her flimsy explanation about where she was earlier that day makes her a suspect. Later that afternoon, Yarbo pays Pop off for starting the fire, but when he mentions that he has more jobs for him, Pop balks. Yarbo, who has helped Pop reunite with college-age daughter Marily, a former ward of the state, threatens to tell the girl of her father's criminal past if he does not comply. Despite his intention of going straight for Marily, who believes her father is a respected consultant living in San Francisco, Pop agrees to continue working for Yarbo. That evening, Yarbo goes to Keely's apartment and she, believing that he is an insurance representative, agrees to speak with him. Yarbo tells Keely that before her father died he arranged to have the warehouse burned down and promised the arsonists half of the insurance claim, which he now demands. Although shocked, Keely threatens to contact the police until Yarbo reveals that the police strongly suspect Keely and he can easily provide phony witnesses against her. Yarbo then declares that he will give Keely two days to consider. After Yarbo departs, Keely telephones the police, but when she is transferred to Johnny, she hangs up. In a meeting with police chief Hollister, Johnny speculates that the recent rash of fires have been set by a gang who bullies in-debt businesses into burning down their buildings and splitting the insurance. The next day, Pop visits Marily, who believes he is in town on a brief business trip. Having charmed information from the Insurance Commission secretary, Ben reports to Johnny that the Harris Warehouse was heavily insured and that Keely's father was deeply in debt. Meanwhile, unknown to Pop, Foxy has followed him from Marily's apartment to a small downtown bar near his home. Unnerved, Pop takes Foxy to his room, where Pop explains how he unwittingly became involved in petty crime. Foxy dismisses Pop's explanations, revealing that he is aware of Pop's arson activities and demanding five thousand dollars as well as the identity of Pop's boss. When Pop declares he does not have the money and only deals with Yarbo, Foxy persists and, panicked, Pop stabs him to death. Pop then flees to Yarbo seeking help, but Yarbo tells the older man that the murder has made Pop useless to him. That evening, Keely, a part-time model and actress, is pleased to be summoned by a movie studio to appear in a bit part the next day. Keely then tries calling Johnny, but instead reaches Ben and asks him to have Johnny contact her at the studio. The following morning, Johnny and Hollister review the fire site news footage film and spot Pop at two of the fires. They are interrupted by another fire alarm, and Johnny races to the scene, where Pop's body is discovered. The ambulance doctor suspects that Pop died before the blaze engulfed the building and suggests he may have committed suicide. Johnny surmises that while Pop probably started the fires, he was working for someone. Keely finally reaches Johnny and at their meeting at the movie studio and tells him about Yarbo. Just as Johnny promises Keely protection, they are shot at by Yarbo, who has been tipped off about their meeting. Johnny chases Yarbo and after wounding him, wonders if Yarbo's boss might be a police insider. With Keely's permission, Johnny sets a trap, telling several top police officials that a briefcase with critical information was found in Yarbo's car on the lot and Keely is delivering the case to Johnny. After examining Yarbo's office, Ben goes to the hospital to visit the lawyer while Johnny searches Pop's room. While Johnny finds evidence linking Pop to the fires, Ben, who is behind the arson, strangles Yarbo to keep him from testifying. Ben then goes to the studio and convinces Keely that Johnny has sent him to bring her to police headquarters with the briefcase. Realizing that Ben is behind the crimes, Keely resists, but he forces her back to her apartment, where she admits there is no briefcase. Ben then knocks Keely out and sets fire to her apartment. Meanwhile, Johnny visits Pop's favorite bar and learns about Foxy's murder from Barney, the bartender, who also admits Pop left papers with him, among them an insurance policy listing Marily as the beneficiary. Johnny calls on Marily to relay the sad news of Pop's death and Marily tearfully reveals that she has just received a letter from her father. Pop's letter apologizes for causing Marily grief and informs her she may be visited by two men, Yarbo and Ben. Alerted about the fire in Keely's building, Johnny rushes to the rescue but is confronted by Ben. As the men fight bitterly, the roof caves in, but Johnny is able to save both Ben and Keely. Afterward, Ben is arrested and Johnny and Keely realize their attraction to each other.
William F. Broidy
Herbert R. Hoffman
The working title of the film was The Fire Bug. The studio at which "Keely" has a brief job was the releasing studio, Allied Artists.