Jimmy Valentine is hard at work in a prison shoe-shop before being escorted to the warden’s office. There, he is given his freedom in the form of a pardon by the governor of Arkansas. Jimmy has been in prison for nearly ten months, after being sentenced to four years, yet instead of celebrating his good fortune, he accepts the pardon “in a tired kind of way.” As a well-connected criminal, Jimmy had expected his friends on the outside to get him out much sooner.
The warden reminds Jimmy that he is “not a bad fellow at heart” before telling him to “stop cracking safes, and live straight.” Jimmy jokingly denies having ever cracked a safe and the warden plays along, defending Jimmy’s feigned innocence. Early the next morning, after being given a five-dollar bill and railroad ticket, Jimmy is released from prison and walks out into the sunshine a free man.
Once on the outside, Jimmy quickly finds a restaurant to indulge in a luxurious meal before boarding a train and returning to his rented room. There, he notices detective Ben Price’s shirt button on the floor, evidence of Price’s arrest of Jimmy for a burglary in Springfield. Jimmy changes into his usual stylish clothing and removes his suitcase of burglar’s tools from a hidden panel in the wall.
A string of increasingly higher-stakes robberies occurs in the area, attracting the attention of law enforcement, and, eventually, Ben Price. Price is convinced that Jimmy is responsible; Jimmy is the only thief capable of such difficult jobs, and he is also the only one who possesses the tools to pull them off. Price is well-versed in Jimmy’s crimes, and he is determined to catch him and hold him accountable.
Meanwhile, Jimmy travels to the small town of Elmore to case the local bank and comes upon a beautiful young woman standing outside. He immediately falls in love with her, and soon learns that the young woman is Annabel Adams, the daughter of the local bank owner. He then checks into a local hotel under a false identity, Ralph D. Spencer, and pretends to be a prospective businessman looking to relocate to the area. Under the guise of Ralph, Jimmy lives and works in Elmore, builds a successful shoe business, and wins the heart of Annabel. After one year, Jimmy has the trust of Annabel’s family, is popular and accepted within the community, and is set to marry her in two weeks’ time.
Reformed by his love for Annabel, Jimmy writes a letter to an old friend telling him of his transformation. Jimmy has no intention of returning to his life of crime and wants to gift his friend his suitcase of burglar’s tools. Soon after, Ben Price arrives in Elmorel in pursuit of Jimmy, and finds him living as Ralph Spencer.
The next day, Jimmy has breakfast with Annabel and her family before going to Little Rock to order his wedding suit and drop off his suitcase of tools to his old friend. With his tools in hand, Jimmy accompanies Annabel and her family to The Elmore Bank, where her father, Mr. Adams, shows off his new safe. Annabel’s nieces, May and Agatha, play nearby as Ben Price walks unnoticed into the bank.
Suddenly, May inadvertently locks Agatha in the new safe, engaging the bolts and combination before Mr. Adams has had the chance to set them. Agatha is stuck in the vault, frightened and running out of air. The family begins to panic, imploring Jimmy to find a way to get her out. Jimmy smiles and asks Annabel for the rose pinned to her dress before opening his suitcase and quickly cracking the safe, freeing Agatha and casting suspicion on his identity as a mere shoe salesman. As Jimmy leaves the bank, he notices Ben Price and resigns himself to his custody, facing his past robberies. Price responds, “Guess you’re mistaken, Mr. Spencer. Don’t believe I recognize you,” before turning and walking away.