The Cry Baby Killer (1958) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A teenage boy panics and takes hostages when he thinks he's committed murder. Jack Nicholson's film debut as the juvenile delinquent.

  • 17-year-old Jimmy Wallace is brutally beaten by Manny Cole and two of his teen-age punk friends, Joey and Al, because Manny wants to move in on Jimmy's girl, Carole Fields. Later, Jimmy shows up at the hangout of the teenage crowd to take Carole away, and challenges Manny to a fight. Manny's two buddies move in with brass knuckles, and one of them pulls a pistol, which falls to the ground in the scuffle. Jimmy picks it up and shoots Manny and Al. A police officer orders Jimmy to surrender, but he panics, thinking he killed the pair, and dives into a small storeroom, and holds a man, woman and her baby as hostages...


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The first motion picture starring Jack Nicholson starts with title and credits shown over a section of brick wall. Jimmy Wallace (Jack Nicholson) is in an alley and gets into a fight with Manny Cole (Brett Halsey) over a woman. Three more join the fight and hold Jimmy while Manny beats him unconscious.

    At the Klix restaurant a carhop, Julie (Lynn Cartwright) brings a policeman more coffee. Manny and his friend Joey Clayman (Ralph Reed) enter the restaurant. In the alley, Jimmy is coming to. He is helped to his feet by a friend and football player, Fred Davis (uncredited). Manny is at a table with Joey and Carole Fields (Carolyn Mitchell). Pete Gambelli (Frank Richards) is the owner of the place and approaches their table and inquires if everything is ok. Evelyn (Mitzi McCall), Manny's last girlfriend, approaches the table. She says hello to Manny and invites herself to sit down. Manny immediately tells her, "Get Lost." It is Joey who wryly observes, "They dont know when Manny's through with them." Carole expresses concern over Jimmy's beating. Manny tells Carole she's now his girl and pours an ample supply of alcohol into her soft drink. She reluctantly drinks the spiked cola. Al Werner (James Fillmore) and Gad (uncredited) join Joey, Manny and Carole at their table. Gad is considered another Jimmy Wallace, so he is rudely dismissed from the table. Manny gives Joey money and orders his flunky to procure two more bottles of alcohol.

    Joey exits the restaurant to annoy Julie and Police Officer Glen Gannon (John Shay). Jimmy and Fred arrive at the Klix. Fred tells Jimmy that Carole isn't any good. He convinces Jimmy to use the phone to talk to Carole. Evelyn answers the phone. She gets Carole, but phrases it so Manny thinks it might be another boyfriend calling her. Carole tells Jimmy not to call her anymore. A very jealous Manny hustles her back to the table. Jimmy and Fred enter the restaurant. Jimmy announces that he is taking Carole home. As things escalate, Pete comes over to intervene. He tells Manny and Jimmy to take it outside. The five men: Manny, Jimmy, Joey, Al and Fred step outside. A man, his wife and baby pull into the parking lot in their car. The five men continue walking. A scuffle breaks out and Jimmy manages to grab the gun from Al, who was holding the gun for Manny. Two gunshots ring out. Office Gannon quickly exits his police car and confronts Jimmy. Mrs. Maxton (Barbara Knudson) leaves the bathroom carrying her infant. Sam (Smoki Whitfield) leaves the storeroom and leads Mrs. Maxton back to the storeroom. Jimmy runs back and enters the storeroom. He closes and locks the door. Mr. Carl Maxton (William A. Forester) pleads with Gannon to help his wife and baby. Jimmy turns around, and to his shock and dismay, sees he is not alone in the storeroom.

    Pete Gambelli is annoyed, and tells Lt. Porter (Harry Lauter), that the police closed up his business. Porter asks Sgt. Reed (John Weed) about the two boys who were shot. He is told that they were alive when the ambulance left. Porter talks to Fred Davis and comments about the brass knuckles used on his face. Porter talks to officer Gannon. Gannon tells Porter that things are quiet and Jimmy isn't talking. Porter calls to Jimmy over the loud speaker. He demands Jimmy surrender. Gannon takes the microphone and continues to demand Jimmy surrender. Sam tells Jimmy, "The man's right, boy. You're in bad enough trouble as it is." He pleads with Jimmy to let the lady and baby go. The baby begins to get restless and Mrs. Maxton asks to leave. The baby begins to cry.

    In the restaurant, Porter calls for the Fields girl, Carole. Evelyn informs the Lieutenant that she ran out. The police begin to question the patrons. A truck pulls up outside. Joey taunts Evelyn about her loyalty to Manny. Joey sarcastically states, "Patsies. The world's full of 'em." The KQQQ news van stops in the parking lot. Joe the driver (an uncredited Roger Corman) and reporter, Rick Connor (Ed Nelson) get out and set up for a live broadcast. Sgt. Reed greets Connor and warns him of the danger. Fred tells Porter it started over girls. He relays the story of finding Jimmy in the alley and Jimmy's desire to get Carole away from Manny. Joey is next for questioning. He is a smartass and his attitude is not appreciated by Porter. The Lieutenant lifts him off his feet and frisks the little punk. He finds the brass knuckles. Joey does a surprising amount of talking. He volunteers that the gun used in the crime was in Al's possession, but belongs to Manny. He also admits Manny was trying to get Carole drunk, as her parents are out of town for the evening. Joey is a font of information and sings like a canary. He also lets slip that Gambelli looks the other way when alcohol is secreted into his establishment. Porter orders Joey to be arrested on a concealed weapons charge. Sgt. Reed informs Porter that the television news crew has arrived and there is still no word from Jimmy.

    Connor begins to record some of his dialog for the evening news. It has now been two hours since Jimmy took three hostages. Connor directs the camera over to the anxious Carl Maxton. Connor interviews Porter. A policeman arrives with Carole Fields. A car drives up with Jimmy's parents. Maxton confronts the anxious Wallace couple. Mr. Wallace (Bill Erwin) doesn't say much, but his wife Helen Wallace (an uncredited Ruth Swanson) speaks her mind. She tells Maxton that Carole is "selfish, vulgar and cruel." She directs her anger to the girl standing within earshot and adds, "She's rotten!"

    Julie brings Officer Glen Gannon a sandwich. Julie tells Gannon she has kids of her own and that her husband was killed in a car accident. Amid all the commotion, a man approaches with a rifle. Cannon orders Julie back inside. The man stands on a box near a window of the storeroom where Jimmy is holding his hostages. Gannon disarms the man and shots are fired. The rifleman is identified as Mr. Werner (an uncredited Claude Stroud) the father of Al Werner, one of the boys shot. Mr. Werner tried to take the law into his own hands, and was arrested and taken away. Porter asks Mrs. Wallace to talk to her son. Carole seeks a little sympathy from Julie, but Julie tells her, "Don't you know what you've done? That boy might be killed any minute. You think because you're 16 the world owes you something. Well it doesn't. You'll end up in the gutter."

    A man in the crowd (screenplay writer Leo Gordon) tells a woman the fire department will be down soon. If the crowd gets out of hand, they hose them down. Mrs. Wallace pleads with Jimmy to give himself up. Carole runs out of the restaurant and pleads with Mrs. Wallace to let her talk to Jimmy. She is sent back into the restaurant. Jimmy goes to the window to talk to his mother. The crowd goes wild and Jimmy fires three shots at them and then ducks back down. The baby is still crying and Mrs. Maxton is at her wits end. She blurts out, "I hope they kill you. You're worse than an animal."

    Three hours have elapsed since the hostage situation began. Jimmy's nerves are raw and the baby crying only makes things worse, "Keep him quiet, can't you?" Mrs. Maxton explains the baby is hungry. Jimmy orders Sam to go to the window and order a bottle of milk for the infant. Sam wisely waves a white flag so he doesn't get shot by mistake. Sam asks for a bottle of milk for the baby. A bottle is prepared. A thermos of coffee is spiked by Porter with a sedative and added to the basket. Mrs. Maxton makes a break for the door, but the baby's cries defeat her plans. Jimmy begs her not to try that again. Sam and Mrs. Maxton take turns holding and comforting the baby.

    Sgt. Reed warns Connor to move his news van. He tells the reporter that they plan to blast the kid out, but Gambelli voices his objections to his place being damaged. A hot dog vendor arrives and begins peddling his wares. This only adds to the carnival-like atmosphere. Gambelli's lawyer, John Lawson (an uncredited Herb Vigran) arrives by car. Porter starts by insulting the lawyer. He listens to the lawyer, then brushes him off with a promise to see both in jail. Porter again makes his appeal for Jimmy to give up. The time is 1:50 a.m. Porter tells Jimmy he has ten minutes, and then the police will break in. Porter plans to use tear gas with guns as a last resort.

    As the minutes tick by, all those involved prepare for the worst. The Wallaces try to leave the restaurant where they are being held by the police, but Gannon won't let them leave. The police don gas masks. With just one minute left, Carole Fields pushes past Gannon and runs outside. She demands to talk to Jimmy. Mr. Wallace asks Porter to allow her to try. Carole asks Jimmy to surrender. She admits it may be her fault. Jimmy tells Carole he wants to come out. He walks out and Carole runs over to him. They embrace and kiss. Jimmy drops the gun. Sam and Mrs. Maxton exit the storeroom. Jimmy is arrested and taken away by two officers. We close with a scene of the crowding walking away and the cast credits rolling.

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