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David Healey, the managing editor of the Chicago Telegraph , receives a visit from accountant Nelson Kern, who offers him a story about the complete infiltration of a crime syndicate across Chicago. Healey is dubious, but when Kern is shot dead in front of the newspaper offices, he runs Kern's story alleging an association with crime cartel boss Arnold Valent. Healey learns soon after that Kern's murder has prompted his wife to commit suicide and his daughter Joyce, living in Paris, to check into a Swiss sanitarium. Healey summons a number of Chicago businessmen together to inform them that Kern had requested that Healey serve as a mediator between him and the law and fingered the Unicorn Casualty and Life as the primary front for Valent's criminal activities. Healey and the police have discovered that Kern's assassin is one of Valent's associates, and the editor asks the businessmen to band together with the Telegraph and all the city papers to support financially an effort to link Unicorn with Valent and break his hold on Chicago. After the men agree, police lieutenant Pat Winters and Healey ask attorney, accountant and respected war hero Barry Amsterdam to infiltrate Valent's business. Barry initially balks at the proposition, but when Healey reveals that he will be paid $60,000, he agrees. Barry goes to The Maracas, a nightclub owned by Valent, where he meets Sue Morton, who reluctantly helps him sneak into the club's casino. There, Barry tells the club manager, Brad Lacey, to inform Valent that Kern's murder was witnessed. After leaving the club, Barry allows himself to be followed and knocked out. He is revived back at The Maracas by Valent's girl friend, singer Connie Peters. Valent questions Barry, who insists that he witnessed Kern's killing and names the assailant. In explanation for why he has not informed the police, Barry claims to have been kicked off the police force and demands money to remain quiet. Valent offers him a job at Unicorn Insurance and Barry accepts. Over the next several weeks, Barry works hard in the accounting division of Unicorn, fully aware that he is under constant surveillance. To win Valent's complete trust, Barry and the police arrange a phony jewelry theft of one of Unicorn's customers. When Barry informs Valent that he has had the claim withdrawn, Valent is impressed. Nevertheless, Valent sends two of his men disguised as policemen to find out if Barry will divulge the identity of Kern's murderer. Reassured of Barry's loyalty, Valent orders him to check on his various businesses to insure money is not being siphoned off. Once allowed access to Valent's widespread interests, Barry learns that the syndicate has nationwide connections, but still cannot uncover a direct link to Valent. One evening Barry finds Sue at The Maracas, flirting with Lacey, as Valent watches with interest. Sue then asks Barry to drive her home, but at her apartment he discovers that her real identity is Joyce Kern. He warns her about associating with Valent, but she pulls a gun and orders him away. The following day, Sue visits Barry to apologize after speaking to the police and learning that he is working undercover. Barry asks her to keep a low profile and to bring him all the information she has on her father. The two are interrupted when Valent summons Barry for an impromptu meeting in Chicago's slums to visit his mother, who unwittingly keeps her son's private ledgers. Barry is excited to have access to the books, but is unable to stop Valent from burning them afterward. Valent then offers Barry a partnership, with the stipulation that everything be in Barry's name. That evening Sue brings Barry her father's papers, which include an order for microfilm. Barry traces the order and, learning that the microfilm contains several ledgers that provide a motive for Kern's murder, deduces that Connie retrieved the film. Certain the microfilm must have long been destroyed, Barry meets with Healey and Sue to admit that he does not believe that Valent can be exposed, but they convince him to continue. Recalling that Valent exhibited interest in Sue, Barry wonders if they can make Connie jealous enough to testify against Valent. Barry then presents Sue to Valent as his girl friend, but when Valent shows interest, stands aside. Over the following week Valent dates Sue, and Connie grows increasingly agitated. When Barry arranges for the police to take a shot at Connie, she goes to Valent, believing he ordered the attempted hit, and threatens to go to the district attorney with the microfilm. Valent has Connie beaten, but she refuses to reveal the location of the film, until The Maracas' band leader, Benny Chico, distraught over the beating, states that Connie had given the film to him to hide. Valent, Barry and his men retrieve the film in a small shop, but when Valent tries to burn it, Barry grabs it and flees through a series of underground tunnels. Valent wounds Barry, but when they surface near his mother's apartment, the police await and kill Valent. The microfilm provides the crucial evidence needed, and the syndicate's hold on Chicago is ended.