An honest district attorney must choose between integrity and loyalty in Manhattan Melodrama, a star-studded classic of Pre-Code Hollywood.
Two young boys, Jim Wade (Jimmy Butler) and Blackie Gallagher (Mickey Rooney - yes, that Mickey Rooney), are among the survivors of the notorious General Slocum disaster (a real-life incident that claimed over a thousand lives). Both rescued by the kindly Father Joe (Leo Carrillo) and adopted by the same man, they lead very different lives as they grow up. The adult Wade (William Powell) dedicates himself to law and order, eventually becoming an incorruptible district attorney, while Gallagher (Clark Gable) is now a slick casino owner - much to the displeasure of Gallagher's girlfriend Eleanor (Myrna Loy). They're still friends, although Wade is duty-bound to go after Gallagher with everything he's got. Even when Eleanor (Myrna Loy) ends up marrying Wade, there are no hard feelings. Eventually, Wade has his eye on the governorship, and his corrupt former assistant Richard Snow (Thomas Jackson) is out for payback for Wade firing him. Snow plans to lie about Wade's association with Gallagher, ruining his chances of becoming governor, and Gallagher murders Snow to protect Wade. Gallagher is arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death, and the newly elected Governor Wade must struggle with upholding the court's decision or using his position to save his old friend's life.