When his hated father dies, Francis Andrews is placed into the care of Richard Carlyon, the master of a smuggling ship. Before a particular voyage, Francis informs the authorities of where the ship will dock and in the ensuing fracas a customs official is killed.
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The pair flee in different directions, with Francis, under pressure from the step daughter of the deceased official, eventually deciding to testify against Carlyon and the other smugglers in court. The authorities attempt to tie him down as a witness by having him seduced by the mistress of the Crown Attorney, but this leads Francis to conclude that the authorities are no better than the smugglers.
At the behest of corrupt and violent policemen, Francis still testifies against the smugglers, but is hesitant to identify Carlyon, whom he still feels some loyalty to. As the movie reaches its conclusion, Francis is left trying to strike a balance between his own feelings and the safety of those he cares for.