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After New York high school student Eddie Brand loses an oratory contest on the Constitution, he becomes despondent and deserts his faithful girl friend Mary to pursue a relationship with Flo Carnes and her rowdy, heavy-drinking group of friends. Ignoring his grandmother's pleas that he slow down, Eddie stays out late with Flo, Maybelle, Agnes, Nick Crosby and Bennie Gray, drinking gin in jazz clubs and dance halls and then robbing strangers at gunpoint. After dropping out of school, Eddie goes from one job to another, growing more and more cocky and dependent on alcohol. One night, while driving around New York in a taxi with Flo and her crowd, Eddie, desperate for liquor, makes the cab driver stop near a Jamaica delicatessen, which is owned by old family friend Heinrich "Heinie" Krantz. In the shop, Eddie demands that Heinie supply him with a "bottle," but Heinie, distressed by Eddie's drunken condition, refuses. Dazed by alcohol, Eddie then shoots and kills Heinie in front of Nick and Bennie. Although they have sworn themselves to secrecy, Nick and Bennie feel the pressure of guilt, and after they are all arrested for the murder, Nick blurts out the truth on the witness stand as an over-confident Eddie questions him. Eddie receives the death penalty, while Nick and Bennie are sentenced to life imprisonment. Before his execution, a remorseful, frightened Eddie talks with Mary and his family about the folly of his life and the path he chose to walk.