Adapted from Robert Sherwood's play, a writer falls in love with a waitress while they are taken hostage by a gang of killers.
In the Arizona desert service station owner Jason Maple (Porter Hall) defends the United States. Boze (Dick Foran) tries to woo Gabrielle (Bette Davis) and kisses her. Hitch-hiker Alan Squier (Leslie Howard) arrives on foot and orders a meal. Jason leaves in his uniform. Alan is a writer, and Gabrielle wants to go to France, where her mother lives. She reads the poetry of Villon. Alan says he married his publisher's wealthy wife in Europe; but she left him. Gabrielle shows Alan her paintings. She doesn't want to marry, and Alan says that Nature is hitting back with neuroses. Gabrielle would like to travel with Alan and invites him to stay until she inherits money from Gramp Maple (Charley Grapewin). Alan thanks her and kisses her good-bye. Boze objects. Alan has no money, but Gabrielle gives him some and gets him a ride with Mr. Chisholm (Paul Harvey), his wife Edith (Genevieve Tobin), and their chauffeur Joseph (John Alexander). They are stopped by Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and his three men, who take their car.
Duke, Jackie (Joe Sawyer) and Ruby (Adrian Moore) with guns come in on Gabrielle and Boze. Alan arrives, and Gramp comes in. Alan senses his own death, and Boze criticizes Jackie. Gabrielle tells Boze that she is crazy about Alan, who tells Gramp to die or give money to Gabrielle. Boze grabs a rifle, but Duke shoots his hand. Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm come in with Joseph. Duke threatens to kill them all and takes Mr. Chisholm's money. Alan changes his insurance policy beneficiary to Gabrielle and asks Duke to shoot him before he leaves. Edith says that Alan is in love with Gabrielle. Duke is waiting for Doris. The black Slim (Slim Thompson) comes in, gives the black Joseph a drink, and mocks his subservience. Gabrielle comes back in, and Edith tells her not to deprive herself out of duty; Edith lost her individuality and advises her to go to France. Alan tells Gabrielle he loves her and is transferring his artistry to her. Gabrielle says they could be happy together. Jason and two others in uniform arrive and tell Duke that his pals were caught. A car arrives, and men with rifles begin shooting as the hostages lay down. Duke takes some out as shields. Alan makes Duke shoot him, and Gabrielle holds him as he dies. Gramp tells Gabrielle about the insurance money she gets. Jason calls the sheriff and learns they got Duke. Gabrielle will bury Alan in the petrified forest as he wished.
The alienated intellectual Alan is contrasted to the desperate killer Duke in the post-world war era when Nature seems to be striking back at human arrogance as society tries to cope with violence.