During the Great Depression, Dove Linkhorn and Kitty Tristram meet on the road in Texas as each travels separately to New Orleans. They decide to travel together, hitchhiking and hopping freight trains. Dove is hoping to find his lost love Hallie Gerard, and is not interested when Kitty comes on to him sexually.
After Kitty steals from the New Orleans-area café where she and Dove stop for a meal, he leaves her and makes things right with the owner, Teresina Vidaverri. She gives Dove a job at the café and a place to stay while he searches for Hallie. He finds her working at the Doll House, an upscale French Quarter bordello, where Jo Courtney is the madam.
Later it is revealed that, after Jo's husband lost his legs in an accident, she lost interest in him. A lesbian relationship is suggested between Jo and Hallie, who is supported by the owner in pursuing her interest in sculpting on the side. But Hallie still works for Jo as a prostitute like the other women. Hallie is unhappy with her life at Jo's, but does not want to give up her comforts to risk married life with Dove.
Meanwhile, Kitty starts working at the bordello after Jo bails her out of jail, where she had been confined for vagrancy. Seeing that Kitty and Dove appear to know each other, Jo questions Kitty about her past, and learns that she traveled with Dove from Texas to Louisiana. Jo threatens Dove with arrest for transporting the underage Kitty across state lines for immoral purposes and for statutory rape, unless he leaves New Orleans without Hallie. As Dove leaves the bordello, the bouncer, another employee, and Jo's husband beat him viciously. Kitty watches from upstairs.
Kitty helps Dove return to the café, where Teresina cares for him. The younger woman goes back to the bordello to get Hallie, helping her reach the café. When Hallie can't be found at the bordello, Kitty is suspected and put under pressure; frightened, she brings Jo and her three henchmen to the café. During the ensuing struggle among the men, Hallie is shot and killed by a stray bullet. On the front-page of a newspaper is a story reporting that Kitty's testimony sent Jo and several others from the bordello to prison.
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