Frankie Machine is no sooner back in his old neighborhood after a 6 month stint in prison and rehab than his old drug dealer, Louie is after him to restart his old drug habit. Frankie will have nothing to with him, proudly declaring that he is drug free and has no intention of letting that monkey get on his back ever again. Before going to prison he was a card dealer but learned to play the drums and now has hopes of becoming a professional musician. It's going to be a struggle however. His wife Zosch, clinging and wheelchair-bound and his old gambling boss, Schwiefka, stress him to the point that he soon falls back into his old drug habit. The girl he really loves, Molly, stands by him through thick and thin but when Louie is killed, the police believe Frankie is the man responsible and go after him.