Strapped to the electric chair, John Allen (Robinson) recalls the sordid circumstances leading to his murder conviction. In the final moments of his life, memories of the doomed man's past rush in. Robinson's incredible performance – one of the highlights of his storied career – makes palpably real the struggles of a riveter with grand ambitions destroyed by a loveless marriage and a scheming taxi dancer. Following the success of Little Caesar, Robinson and director Mervyn LeRoy reunited to deliver this disturbing tale of crime and its cruel punishment.
Impoverished by the Depression, teenage buddies Tom and Ed take off to fend for themselves and lighten their unemployed parents' load. Far from home, the boys' romantic dreams of new found freedom and idyllic odyssey are shattered by the brutal lessons of the dog-eat-dog nature of life on the ragged fringes of society. Director Wellman (Public Enemy) brings a vivid ferocity to this hard-edged road movie. Such clear-eyed and unflinching depictions of poverty, lawlessness and the victimization of youth would soon become rare in Hollywood.