"You’re the lowest thing on a newspaper, a picture snatcher, stealing pictures from folks who are so down in the mouth they can’t fight back—just a thug doing the same thing you always did."
Description: Patricia Ellis as Patricia Nolan chastises cocky ex-con Danny Kean (James Cagney) for his low-handed methods used to get photographs for his newspaper in the motion picture Picture Snatcher (1933).
"His camera takes 'em from love nests to Page One before they can bat an eye---or put on a negligee!" - Movie Tagline
Danny Kean just got out of Sing Sing prison. He didn't like being behind bars and swears to go straight. He bids farewell to his criminal associates and informs them that he will no longer be part of their crooked shenanigans. Danny intends to work for "The Graphic News" a local tabloid. He received an encouraging letter from J.R. "Al" McClean (Ralph Bellemy), the editor of the sleazy rag who promised to give Danny a job when he gets out of jail. And so Danny heads to the newspaper and offer his services.
At first, McClean doubts Danny has what it takes to be a reporter but he gives Danny the chance to prove himself if he can get a photograph of Hennessey (George Pat Collins), a fireman who returns to his burning home only to discover his wife and her lover inside. They die in the fire and the grieving fireman now sit with shotgun in hand and refuses to allow anyong entry to the remains of his burnt out house.
Danny gains access by posing as an insurance adjuster who wants to access the damages. While in the house, Danny snatches a wedding photograph of the fireman and his wife off a charred wall of his home, and brings it back to the newspaper where it is printed on the front page of the next edition. Danny's bravado gets him a position as a newspaper photographer.
And so as Danny begins a profession that helps "hundreds of thousands of men and women feed their starving, mediocre souls on the indiscretions and adventures of others," he falls in love with Patricia Nolan, a journalism student who visits the newspaper on a tour.
"I'm a picture snatcher...when a millionaire's wife elopes with the chauffer. I'm the guy that slaps their profile on the front page. I track down the saps that have good reasons to keep their pictures out of the paper, murderers, embezzlers, crook politicians and people who pull the blinds down in their own houses. And that ain't all I do. I risk my neck grabbing reports on plane crashes, train wrecks and ships breaking up in storms off shore. And lots of other things... it's all in a day's work." - Danny Kean [during newspaper tour]
Turns out Patricia is the daughter of the copper who arrested Danny. Of course, Lt. Casey Nolan (Robert Emmett O'Connor) doesn't have much faith in the ex-con and is worried about his daughter's romantic infatuation. But when Danny gets a local newspaper to print a favorable story about the policeman, a story which gets the cop a promotion to Captain, Daddy Nolan changes his mind and welcomes Danny into the family.
Sadly, Danny loses the trust of both Patricia and her father, when he sneaks a photograph of a woman sent to the electric chair. Danny's boss (Robert Barrat) offered $1,000 for a picture of a woman being executed at Sing Sing prison and Danny just couldn't pass up the opportunity.
To gain access to the prison, Danny steal a reporter's credentials (locking him in the bathroom) and convinces Captain Mr. Nolan who controls security for the event to let him into the execution. Danny takes the money shot with a tiny camera strapped to his leg.
Everything goes off without a hitch. Danny gets his picture and the adolation of his fellow staffer at the newspaper, but his success spells disaster for his relationship with Patricia Nolan who now hates Danny because his actions got her father demoted because he allowed someone to smuggle a camera into the execution.
McLean is also angry when he finds fellow reporter, Allison (Alice White) embracing Danny, an embrace that is unsolicited nor wanted. Danny had been refusing her advances ever since he got hired at the tabloid. Allison was McClean's girl and he didn't want to offend his friend by going behind his back. And besides Danny was in love with Patricia who now wanted nothing to do with him. The whole affair depresses Danny and he starts drinking booze to alleviate his sorry. At the same time, his editor McClean decides to quit drinking.
Then one day, things turn around wh McClean learns that a guy named Jerry the Mug, a former member of Danny's gang, shot two policemen. Danny and McClean team up to bring Jerry to justice and get a sensational story.
In the end, the police kill Jerry in the shootout, Danny snaps and sells photos of the event, and credits Mr. Nolan with the operation's success which restores Patricia's father reputation with the police department. Then both Danny and McLean find new jobs and Danny reunites with Patricia.
Note: The film's fictional depiction of a female execution is based an actual incident in which Chicago crime photographer Tom Howard covertly snapped a photo for the New York Daily News as convicted murderess Ruth Snyder was electrocuted in the electric chair on January 12, 1928 at Sing Sing Prison.