Mobster "Baby Face" Martin returns home to visit the New York neighborhood where he grew up, dropping in on his mother, who rejects him because of his gangster lifestyle, and his old girlfriend, Francey, now a syphilitic prostitute. Martin also crosses paths with Dave, a childhood friend struggling to make it as an architect, and the Dead End Kids, a gang of young boys roaming the streets of the city's East Side slums.
OK, so this is definitely not the cheeriest of stories but Bogart and Joel McCrea are on good form throughout this gritty drama of hardship and depravity on the East Side of New York. "Baby Face Martin" - who, to be fair, maybe benefits a bit optimistically from the moniker - returns to his childhood home to reunite with his mother and childhood sweetheart. His mother wants nothing to do with him and his ex "Francie" (Claire Trevor) turned to prostitution and hasn't long to go before syphilis does for her. Meantime his friend, aspiring/struggling architect "Dave" (McCrae) is juggling his romantic interests between sweet but rather dreary "Drina" and "Kay" (Wendy Barrie) who already has a rich boyfriend. All of this misery is made all the more poignant by the fact that this ghetto is overlooked by the apartments of the wealthy that have relocated to new properties that overlook the adjacent East river. When Bogart decides that he wants to re-assert himself in the community by organising a high-profile kidnapping, he and his erstwhile friend find themselves on opposite sides of the plot! The crime drama is there, but it is comparatively weak compared with the pretty blatant social commentary from Lillian Hellman's screenplay that draws attention, unashamedly, to the stark contrast between the standards of living (and dying) of those just yards apart.