Essentially, a romantic drama, sited in early Oregon, a few years after gold was discovered in the SW region of the state. Most of the action takes place in or near Oregon's 2 largest towns then :Portland, in the north, and the gold mining boom town of Jacksonville, near the SW corner.
Ambitious merchant Logan Stuart(Dana Andrews) is in Portland to pick up some merchandise and currency to take by muleback to far off Jacksonville. Also, he agreed to escort Lucy Overmire(Susan Hayward): fiancé of his friend George Camrose(Brian Donlevy) back to Jacksonville(No clue how she got to Portland, apparently on a pleasure trip). The night before they leave, someone enters Logan's room, apparently with the intent to stab him. But, Logan wrestles him until he escapes out the window(a rather clumsily done incident). Logan isn't positive, but suspects it was Honey Bragg(Ward Bond), who suspects Logan knows he killed two miners, currently blamed on 'Indians'.(Why would Bragg trail Logan all the way to Portland, just to kill him?). The long horse and mule trip through the wilderness is without incident. On their last day, they stop by at the cabin of Ben Dance(Andy Devine) and family, where Logan introduces Lucy to his girlfriend Caroline(Patricia Roc): a native Brit, whose parents were killed by 'Indians", hence was adopted by the Dances.
After getting to know George a bit, we wonder what attraction his flawed character holds for either Logan or Lucy. He seems to be from a wealthy family, as does Lucy. Apparently, that is mostly what they have in common. Like many characters played by Donlevy, he seems to want to get through life in style, doing the least amount of productive work. He's also addicted to gambling, vainly hoping to make a living by it. To cover his gambling debts, he steals gold dust he is entrusted with, and leans on Logan to bail him out of the rest of his debts. He also tries to strike up a side romance with the wife of a gambling buddy. Later, he murders a miner whose gold dust he pilfered to pay his debts. He clearly states that he wishes he were back in the cultured East rather than this primitive society. Although Lucy and George plan to marry soon, as do Logan and Caroline, at the same time, it's clear Lucy is gradually realizing that Logan is the right man for her, while Caroline finally realizes that the often absent ambitious Logan isn't really the kind of lifestyle she wants in a husband. Thus, in the finale, the 'right' man and woman finally are free to pursue dreams together.
Many of the scenes take place under darkened conditions: at night or in a dark forest, and most of the violent acts are only alluded to: an exception being the rampaging 'Indians', near the end. Another exception is the brutal fight in front of many spectators, between Logan and Bragg. Logan begins by breaking a couple of chairs over Bragg's back, thus largely negating the latter's advantage of a superior body for and experience in fighting. Bragg and George clearly are the main villainous elements in this tale: the one an uncultured friendless bully from the beginning. The other an aristocratic dilettante and sneak, whose villainy mostly related to his gambling addiction, is only gradually established, and who enjoys the undeserved support of his few friends. Both are marked for death by the plot, and both are eventually murdered.
The background music is quite good. We also have Hoagie Carmichael as a significant character, who shows up periodically, to strum a new song on his banjo or to comment on the activities of the principals. His 4 original songs aren't really memorable, but fit the situation at hand. He warbles the most popular one: "Ole Buttermilk Sky", while trailing Logan and Lucy as they head for San Francisco to start a new life, after Logan's store was burned out by the locals for helping George escape.
Patricia Poc was on loan from her British film company. She was infamous for her fickle intense romantic affairs, often with married men, including Ronald Reagan.
Popular supporting actor Ward Bond occasionally played villains, but I can't recall any as blatant as Honey(such a sarcastic name) Bragg. In the John Wayne western "Dakota", he was a sneaky get rich quickly schemer, somewhat reminiscent of George, in this film...Donlevy often played oily villains. My favorite is Sid, in "Union Pacific". Andy Devine, as a homesteader, occasionally fills the scene.
The film includes a reasonable balance of joyous and sinister elements. Among the former is a cabin raising by a large group for a newly wed couple, followed by a party... The outdoors scenes were filmed in several locals in forested mountainous Oregon, including the Crater Lake area. Mount Jefferson(I assume) is often seen in the background.
I wish more had been included about the plight of the local 'Indians', as a result of the sudden gold rush. These were not the 'infamous' Modocs, who were located more to the SE of the gold fields. Within just a couple of years, their lives were totally wrecked by the swarming gold seekers, who decimated the local game, killed or pushed the 'Indians' off their home sites, which tended to be where the easy placer gold was, and largely destroyed their riverine food staples from mine tailings and hydraulic mining, the latter having silted up the Sacramento River in CA.
Presently viewable at YouTube.