In this satire of Hollywood a gambler gets involved in robberies, flees to California, and becomes a movie star but gets blackmailed by his old gang.
Movie usher Dan Quigley (James Cagney) is warned about gambling and is fired for making wise-cracks. He discovers a scam in which Myra (Mae Clarke) drops her purse to lead men into a crooked poker game. He asks for a cut and is soon dividing up big money at a gambling club. Finding a rich widow, Dan drives his car into hers and is welcomed into her house, enabling his gang to rob her. When the butler is killed in another robbery, Dan complains. As the police raid, Duke (Leslie Fenton) shoots the informer. Dan and Myra flee to Chicago and Los Angeles. The police hold Dan for grand larceny, while Spade (Douglass Dubrille) and Myra, instead of bailing him out, take his money and go to Mexico.
Dan gets out of jail and is hired to play a gangster in a movie. In a prison scene Dan hits a cop; then he plays an Indian chief, meeting movie star Lois Underwood (Margaret Lindsay). Dan writes his own fan mail, gets promoted in magazines, and is soon a star. He buys monkeys for Lois on her birthday, and they run wild at her party. Dan gets so angry about a movie review that he makes the author swallow the column. When Dan shows Lois his place, they find Myra in his bed. Lois leaves, and Myra threatens to turn Dan in; but he throws her out. The gang visits Dan, and Spade asks him to invite them to the homes of movie stars. Dan gives them $10,000, and they agree to leave town. Lois brushes off Dan, and the director does Lois and Dan's love scene with real garlic, causing Lois to cry and push Dan into the fountain. After the gang tours homes of movie stars, a police detective asks Dan about a robbery at a film party. Dan busts in on Myra and hears a police report of a robbery at Lois Underwood's home. The gang brings in jewelry, and Dan pulls a gun and hits Spade. Dan takes the jewelry to return it but is arrested by the police. Dan tries to explain to the police, but a policeman was killed during the arrest. Lois goes to bail out Dan; but Spade plans to bail him out and kill him so that he won't talk. Myra takes Dan in her car and warns him; but Dan tipped off the police who are following. As Dan speeds up, the gang and police shoot at each other. Some are killed, and Dan helps the police capture Spade. In the final scene Dan and Lois are flying off to get married that day.
The personality of Dan (Cagney) carries this combination movie satire, gangster melodrama, and romantic comedy, allowing the audience to escape daily life for the intrigue of crime, the glamor of movies, and the fantasy of romance.