Dan McGinty (Donlevy), a bartender somewhere in Central America, tells a customer (an embezzler who fled the United States and now regrets it) about how he went from penniless tramp to state governor, only to lose it all. A flashback ensues.
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McGinty gets a job stuffing ballots for an unnamed crooked political boss (Tamiroff). Though they frequently disagree and even come to blows, the boss keeps giving McGinty bigger and bigger jobs, eventually running him for mayor of the city on the "reform" ticket. To make him more electable, the boss has him enter into a sham marriage with his secretary Muriel (Angelus). McGinty wins the mayorship, and the two men rake in ill-gotten profits. They become more ambitious, and McGinty is elected governor of the state.
By this point, however, he and Muriel have fallen in love and started a family. Muriel persuades him to turn honest and defy the boss. In the ensuing power struggle, the two men end up in jail and their past corruption is revealed. Fortunately, the boss has a loyal underling (William Demarest) who helps them escape to Central America.
Returning to the present, the woman who picked up the embezzler in the bar tells him to go home, take his punishment and rebuild his life. The boss, who runs the bar, spots McGinty pocketing some money, and the two men start brawling.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's delightfully cynical about politics and politicians.
Best scene in story:
The fight at the end shows McGinty has fully recovered from his slight bout of honesty.
Opinion about the main character:
Donlevy is made to play tough, unscrupulous men. Check out the film noir The Glass Key, where he plays the boss to Alan Ladd's underling.