Fritz Lang's first American film is a vigorous and perceptive indictment of mob law, starring Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney. Katherine (Sidney) leaves her boyfriend, Joe Wilson (Tracy), behind in their Midwestern hometown when she takes a job in another city. Joe is a decent, hard-working soul, who wants to save up to buy a gas station and looks forward to the future when he and Katherine can get married. A year later, Joe is traveling to meet Katherine so that they can be married. Driving through a small town, Joe is stopped by a deputy sheriff waving a shotgun. Apparently there has been a kidnapping, and the fact that Joe has peanuts in his pocket circumstantially incriminates him in the crime. Joe is arrested and jailed. As Joe sits in his jail cell, the local townspeople begin to talk and whisper and spread rumors. Finally, a lynch mob forms and heads toward the jail. The mob tries to storm the jail and frustrated over their inability to penetrate the prison walls, they set the jail on fire. Joe barely manages to escape ("I could smell myself burning"), but the mob thinks that Joe has been burned to death. Behind the scenes, and with the help of his brothers, Joe tries to rig the verdict in the impending trial of the 22 vigilantes.