In 1906, Wilse Dilling (Lon Chaney), a crippled gangster living like a brute in the savage streets of Chinatown, receives a coded message to go to the home of his boss, Ann Cardington (Christine Mayo), known as Queen Anne, a powerful crime boss feared in the underworld. When Wilse meets with her, she sends him to the town of Fallbrook, where he is to await her instructions in dealing with a former lover of hers, a banker named Micha Hadley (William Welsh), who had betrayed her. Dilling is to pose as a telegraph operator in his effort to watch the banker.
Being practically dependent on crutches and wheelchair-bound has not stopped Dilling from committing a lengthy series of crimes, but to his surprise, he finds that the small town atmosphere makes him feel differently about everything. He finds a good friend in Hadley’s daughter Gertrude (Virginia Valli), whom Dilling not only falls in love with her but she helps him believe that he can make a fresh start. Gertrude, however, is engaged to Jack Cooper (Jack Mower).
Dilling’s new-found contentment is soon shattered by a series of new developments which includes trying to stop Queen Ann’s plot against Hadley and Gertrude. Threatened with exposure as a thief, Hadley lashes out at Dilling when he confesses his part in the scheme. When an attempt to blow up the bank goes badly, Gertrude and Cooper are caught in the blast. With Gertrude severely injured, Cooper’s father forces him to break off their engagement.
With the bank records destroyed, bank examiners are unable to find evidence against Hadley. After surgery, his daughter is expected to make a complete recovery but Queen Anne still seeks his revenge. Dilling tries to recover a document that his boss is holding, but with her henchmen, she captures Gerturde to Dilling’s despair. Before anything can happen, everyone in the Manadarin Cafe, the gangsters’ headquarters, as well as the entire city, is caught up in the San Francisco earthquake. Dilling survives and later in recuperation, is able to recover the use of his legs, beginning a new life with Gertrude.
Lambert Hillyer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons