In this drama, Pat O'Brien plays James O'Malley, a tough, by-the-book policeman who is so unbending on any minor infraction of the law that he even gives his own mother a ticket for jaywalking. When newspaper reporter Pinky Holden (Hobart Cavanaugh) writes an article making fun of O'Malley's obsession with order, Capt. Cromwell (Donald Crisp), the Chief of Police, demotes the officer to a crossing guard. In his first day on the job, O'Malley, true to form, gives John Phillips (Humphrey Bogart) a ticket for the broken muffler on his rattletrap car. Phillips is in dire financial straits; he's been out of work for some time, and has both a wife (Frieda Inescort) and a handicapped daughter, Barbara (Sybil Jason), to support. O'Malley takes so long writing out his ticket for Phillips that when he finally arrives at work, he's fired. Desperate for cash, Phillips tries to hock his war medals, but a disagreement with the pawnbroker leads to a fight, and after knocking him out, Phillips takes all his money. Phillips is arrested by O'Malley for his faulty muffler around the same time that Barbara wanders into traffic and is seriously injured by a motorist. Eventually, O'Malley puts the pieces together and realizes the terrible toll his unwillingness to compromise has taken on Phillips and his family.