In a city skyscraper, a man hides in the dark from a security guard. He runs to a structure he can hide in--a big clock--and says to himself, "Thirty-six hours ago, I was a respectable man." As he is hiding, he flashes back to the previous day.
The big clock is the main attraction in the building of Janoth Publications, a company that publishes many diverse magazines. The man, George Stroud, is an editor with Crimeways magazine which seeks and finds missing persons using George's method of "irrelevant clues." This day is the last before George with his wife Georgette and their son George to have the honeymoon George and Georgette never had because George was hired quickly by the time-obsessed Earl Janoth. Their marriage is rocky because George does not spend much time with his family. As he prepares to leave, Janoth, his awe-inspiring, tyrannical boss, tells George not to leave on vacation. George refuses and is fired by Janoth. George meets Pauline York, a model for Janoth's publication Styleways and Janoth's mistress. George and Pauline go to several bars and he misses his train with his family. He sleeps off his drinking binge in Pauline's apartment, and she makes him leave when she notices Janoth at her apartment window. When Janoth comes, he and Pauline fight. He kills her with a sundial George had bought her in a bar. Anxious to cover up, Janoth goes to his right-hand man, Steve Hagen, for advice.
Not knowing that Pauline has been killed, George flies to West Virginia to be with his family. Janoth pleads with him to come back and search for the man who had last been seen with Pauline York, the man suspected as her killer. Not wanting to disclose his rendezvous with Pauline, George agrees to come back to his old job and search for the man, who is really himself. The staff of Crimeways fans out across the country to look for the mysterious man "Jefferson Randolph," directed ineptly by George. George discovers Pauline's body in her apartment and searches for her killer.
Meanwhile, the search for Randolph intensifies. When an antiques dealer George and Pauline had visited spots George in the Janoth building, the building is sealed off and the witnesses brought in to identify Randolph. George hides in the big clock. With help from his wife and his actor friend posing as a detective, George confronts Steve and Janoth and identifies Steve as the killer. Steve gives Janoth up, and Janoth shoots him dead. George pursues Janoth, who falls down an elevator shaft.