Nick Robey (John Garfield) is a down-on-his-luck two-bit hood, fast on his feet but a little slow on the uptake. His running buddy, Al Molin (Norman Lloyd), does most of the thinking for him, which includes a payroll heist that goes horribly wrong when a cop spots them just as they've slugged the man with the cash. Al is wounded and caught, but Nick manages to get away, shooting the police officer in the process. He remembers Al's last instructions, to act calmly and melt into the crowd, but Nick isn't quite able to do that -- he hides out at a public swimming pool, where he meets Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters), a nice but shy working girl, and convinces her to let him take her home. Once there, he tries to spend a normal evening, as though he were on a date, while her mother (Selena Royle), father (Wallace Ford), and younger brother (Bobby Hyatt) go out to a movie. But he can't relax, and their return rattles Nick enough so that he pulls his gun and reveals who he is and what he's done. This is one of several miscalculations that Nick makes in the course of holding the family hostage over the next two days. He initially plans on leaving in the morning, but when he discovers that the police officer whom he shot has died, and that they know who he is, he has to stay, letting the Dobbs family go about their business but always keeping at least one of them at home with him as a hostage, to make sure the others don't talk to the police. The family's plight is further complicated by the fact that Peg is truly attracted to him, despite what he's done, and seems willing to risk a great deal to see her family safe and him safely away from their home. She wants to love him, but discovers that someone who can't trust anyone for more than a few seconds at a time -- forget the gun he's always threatening to use -- can't even feel love, much less act on those feelings. Meanwhile, the police dragnet keeps getting tighter, and Peg's father knows he has to act soon to end this situation before the authorities come knocking on his door and Nick starts shooting.
by Bruce Eder synopsis