Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy) is a family man, living in California, who can’t seem to get by financially. He meets up with a small-time, but charismatic, hood Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges). Soon, Slocum convinces Tyler to participate in gas station robberies to get by. Later, they kidnap a wealthy man in hopes of getting a huge ransom. Things go wrong when the man is murdered by Slocum then thrown in a lake. Tyler reaches his limit emotionally, and he begins drinking heavily. He meets a lonely woman and confesses the crime while drunk. The woman flees and goes to the police.
When the two kidnappers are arrested, a local journalist (Richard Carlson) writes a series of hate-filled articles about the two prisoners which eventually lead to a brutal lynching.