“This is for you, Frank,” the shooter said and fired his weapon at point blank range. The onetime boss of the New York underworld grasped his bloodied neck and fell.
This begins a curious story where a gangster and a freelance artist become friends through a mutual interest in―comics.
Joe and Gilda have ventured to New York seeking their fortunes. He strives to sell cartoons to magazines. She, an actress, looks for roles on stage or screen. A producer Gilda knew in Germany is in the city promoting a major motion picture. She hopes that he will help with her career.
Joe is innocently drawn into a conflict between the producer and a psychiatrist who supplies the producer’s addicted wife with illicit drugs. In the fight over money the psychiatrist is killed by his own gun while struggling to defend himself.
Joe is introduced to Mafia hood, Frank Caprizzi, through a janitor friend who shows off a cartoon Joe has sold and published in The Saturday Evening Post. Caprizzi is a fan of old comic books dealing with crime and reads the comics in newspapers. He suggests a lucrative enterprise for Joe―illustrating the ex-bootlegger’s life in a graphic novel. It will be Caprizzi’s way of having the truth of his former criminal exploits revealed, and to make it clear to his enemies that he’s retired and no longer connected with Mob interests. The book infuriates certain members who don’t approve of their organization receiving this sort of publicity. Whether it be about past or present activities.
Gilda, through producer’s influence, scores the lead in a Summer Stock stage play. A breech occurs in the relationship between Joe and Gilda. He and his publisher are threatened by gangsters over the Caprizzi biography. Police continue to investigate psychiatrist’s death and complicate the lives of Joe and the producer. Joe has a fatal flaw, his drinking, which he must overcome. The producer’s wife is unable to cope―especially with husband’s adulteries―and commits suicide. Producer runs off to Europe to do film on Cezanne, French Post-Impressionist painter. Promised a role in the movie, Gilda goes with producer. Financial backers withdraw. Film company and Gilda are left stranded.
Joe is advised of her plight in a letter sent by actor friend. He flies to Paris and finds Gilda, her health failing, in Montmartre bistro trying to make her way with Marlene Detrich impersonations. Disturbed stepson turns up at producer’s hotel. He’s been mistreated by stepfather all his life. Learning that producer has conned his mother out of her wealth, leaving him nothing, stepson shoots producer to death―and then himself.
Joe and Gilda return to New York. They’ve agreed on one more attempt to remain together. It has been difficult loving a desirable actress like Gilda. But the future looks promising. He has become successful illustrating graphic novels. “I love you, Joe,” she says. He kisses her. They cling together in a long embrace. And the words trickle through his mind
, You are lucky, man … enjoy it while it lasts.