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In Panama's Canal Zone, during World War II, sailors Red, Rags and Rowdy go to Phil's Palace to see the musical revue starring their friend Hattie Maloney, also known as Panama Hattie. After her number, Hattie tells the men that she is going to marry soldier Dick Bulliet, who comes from a prominent family in Philadelphia, but first she must meet his eight-year-old child from a previous marriage. The next day, Dick goes to the dock to greet his daughter Geraldine, who is accompanied by the family's starchy English butler, Jay Jerkins. Also disembarking is the elegant Leila Tree, the admiral's niece, who greets Dick as an old friend. Hattie and her friend, Flo Foster, the cigarette girl at the club, meet Dick and Geraldine in the town square, and Hattie is offended and hurt when Geraldine laughs at her gaudy outfit and slang expressions. Hattie spends the evening drinking at Phil's. The following morning, a hung over Hattie is having breakfast with her sailor friends when Flo asks to accompany her to Dick's rented cottage because she has fallen in love with Jerkins. Dick comes for Hattie and introduces her to Leila, whose snobbish manner irritates her. At Dick's cottage, Hattie and Geraldine cement their friendship as Flo flirts with Jerkins. Later, Leila's friend, Lucas Kefler, gives a note to Hans, a waiter at the club, instructing him to go to the "empty house" at midnight and "do your stuff." Hans gives the assignment to his co-worker Bruno. Meanwhile, Red tells Rags they must help Hattie, and gives Bruno a note for Leila. Bruno accidentally gives Leila the wrong note, and when she indignantly confronts Red, he suggests that she could improve her image by dating a sailor. Leila goes to Hattie's dressing room and accuses her of putting Red up to insulting her, then announces herself as a rival for Dick's affections. She tells Hattie that she will never belong to Dick's world, and after Leila leaves, Hattie weeps in despair. Red, meanwhile, looks at the note Leila left behind, and when he sees it is not the one he sent her, he realizes something suspicious is going on. Red, Rags and Rowdy show the note to Hattie, who is packing to leave Panama, and tell her it must be the work of spies. That night, the sailors nervously enter the empty house, which is rumored to be haunted, and have just discovered a chemistry set when two men arrive. One of the men disappears through a secret passageway, and the other escapes and shoots at the sailors from outside the house. Red, Rags and Rowdy manage to get out moments before a bullet ignites the chemicals and the house explodes. The next day, Hattie is saying goodbye to the bartender at Phil's when Kefler insults her by calling her "terrific," and the sailors attack him. Hans and Bruno join in, and a huge brawl erupts. Jerkins, who witnessed the start of the brawl, goes to Dick's cottage and announces that Hattie has boarded a boat to New York, and Dick and Geraldine rush off to stop her. Meanwhile, Red, Rags and Rowdy are nursing their bruises in the stockade when the guard tells them that the men they were fighting with are spies. The sailors are given a hero's parade through the streets of Panama, winding up at the club. Dick, Geraldine and Hattie arrive, and when Dick tells Leila that he and Hattie were married an hour before, she faints. Red revives Leila and proposes to her, promising to take her around the world and show her "where Japan used to be."