This story of grifters plays out people acquiring money by deceptive methods.
Bellhop Bert (James Cagney) gets blonde Ann (Joan Blondell) a job in the linen room of the hotel. She slaps him, but he pretends to like it. He tells her the age of chivalry has become the age of chiselry, and they become partners. She traps a jewelry salesman (Guy Kibbee) in a car with illegal alcohol; by using a hired cop, Ann and Bert split the $5,000 he pays to avoid a scandal. Ann tells Bert he only cares about money and not about love, though he disagrees. Dan (Louis Calhern) offers Bert a racket of buying $45,000 in counterfeit twenties for $15,000; but Dan's blonde girlfriend steals the money from his hotel room. Bert gets $5,000 by ordering a diamond bracelet for a famous rich person and then pretending to pick it up as a representative of the jewelry store. Ann senses that Bert is lying to her; but she says she believes him anyway. However, Dan tells Ann how they took Bert, and she gets angry at Bert when he tells her how he stole the bracelet to get their money back. It's one thing to swindle swindlers, but that was real stealing.
Ann and Bert decide to get back at Dan. She sets up a scheme whereby he can get the racing results in the car on the way to the track and win bets with an unsuspecting rich companion. When they get to the track, Dan discovers he has lost the bets and been caught in his own scheme. Bert asks Ann to marry him, but she has fallen in love with the Wall Street banker Joe Reynolds (Ray Milland), who she says has a real life with music and art. Ann weds Joe, but a year later she comes to Bert asking for $30,000 to replace the money Joe has embezzled and lost. Bert asks Joe for the key to the safe so that he can rob it to clear him; but he calls a cop, and Bert gets shot while escaping. Ann visits Bert recuperating in jail and tells him that Joe double-crossed him; but Bert will not let her confess, because she would be implicated for all their crimes. She admits she really loves Bert.
After the stock market crash, people used to playing with money suddenly found it was very tight and hard to find. This movie fantasizes ways that people can get money quickly by trickery, but often the con artists get fooled by others more clever. In this story the respectable Wall Street banker turns out to be the lowest of them in betrayal. The tough guy Bert ends up in jail, while the rat Joe is free; but Bert has won the spiritual victory because Ann now loves him instead of Joe.