Orphaned brothers Treat and Phillip live in a squalid New Jersey tenement where dominant sibling Treat, so fearful that he will lose his brother keeps him imprisoned in their home and terrorizes him with tales of what would happen were he to go outside. Treat meanwhile works the streets of New York as a petty thief where he meets Harold, a prosperous-looking drunk. Treat lures Harold to their home, whereupon discovering he's wealthy decides to hold him for ransom. What Treat doesn’t know is that Harold is a gangster on the lam and that both he and his brother are actually less in need of his money than his presence as a father figure in their lives. Conveying complex emotional themes, the film, as well as the 1985 Lyle Kessler play that it was based on, enjoyed widespread success.