Story synopsis

Wanted by mob hitmen, David 'Noodles' Aaronson flees 1930s New York. Decades later he returns, revisits the gang's hang-out, and recalls old times....

As boys, Noodles, Cockeye, Patsy, and Dominic commit petty crime on the lower east side. They meet Max who joins the gang and soon Noodles and Max become best friends and the gang work their way up in the crimeworld by blackmailing the local police sergeant. Meanwhile Noodles is in love with Deborah, a local girl who has dreams of becoming a dancer, but she rebuffs him for being too coarse. One day during a street-fight Noodles stabs a rival hoodlum and a policeman, and is sent to juvenile prison.

By the time of his release from prison, Prohibition has enabled the gang to become bootleggers and hit the big time. Max is eager for the gang to cement ties with bigger gangs but Noodles resists, preferring 'the stink of the streets'. His love for Deborah remains but when he tells her so, she again rejects him in order to pursue her career. Meanwhile, Max forms a plan for a fantastic robbery and in order to save all their lives, Noodles informs the police. Instead, Max, Patsy, and Cockeye are killed in a shoot-out with police and Noodles flees on the first bus out.

His return decades later is prompted by receipt of a mysterious letter and a suitcase of money in return for 'one last job.' Meanwhile, he tracks down Deborah - now a successful actress - and is contacted by a Secretary Bailey who is engulfed in a corruption scandal. Noodles confronts Bailey and learns that the past was not as he thought.