The Public Enemy (1931) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Tom Powers and Matt Doyle are best friends and fellow gangsters, their lives frowned upon by Tom's straight laced brother, Mike, and Matt's straight laced sister, Molly. From their teen-aged years into young adulthood, Tom and Matt have an increasingly lucrative life, bootlegging during the Prohibition era. But Tom in particular becomes more and more brazen in what he is willing to do, and becomes more obstinate and violent against those who either disagree with him or cross him. When one of their colleagues dies in a freak accident, a rival bootlegging faction senses weakness among Tom and Matt's gang, which is led by Paddy Ryan. A gang war ensues, resulting in Paddy suggesting that Tom and Matt lay low. But because of Tom's basic nature, he decides instead to take matters into his own hands.

  • At a young age, pals Tom Powers and Matt Doyle begin a life of crime. At first it's just shoplifting for Putty Nose who fences whatever they can steal. They graduate from petty thievery to big time crime when they're drawn into a plan to rob a bank but the job goes bad and a policeman is killed. Tom and Matt find they're on their own. With the U.S. entry into World War I, Tom's brother Mike enlists in the Marines while Tom stays home to take care of their elderly mother. The introduction of prohibition however is where they start to make big money working for mobsters Paddy Ryan and Nails Nathan. Went Nathan is killed in a horse riding accident however, rival mobsters try to take over his businesses leading to a gang war.

  • Tom's bad way of life is constantly set up against his brother Mike's, who has a job during the day and goes to night school. Mike will enroll in the Marines to fight in WWI. He will come back and will constantly try to put Tom back on the right path.

  • A young hoodlum rises up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld, even as a gangster's accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war.


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