After finding gold in Alaska, George Pratt (Granger) sends his partner Sam McCord (Wayne) to Seattle to bring back his fiancée, a French girl named Jenny. Sam arrives laden with gifts and explanations only to discover Jenny has married another man.
Sam, not knowing what else to do, goes to a place called the Hen House to console himself. There he runs into a feisty prostitute called "Angel" (Capucine), whose accent makes Sam get the crazy idea that another French girl would make a fine substitute (alcohol was involved). Angel, who thinks Sam's friend is all talk, goes along with the plan for a while only to quickly fall in love Sam's genuine and honorable nature — something she isn't used to.
It's not until they're on the boat that everything backfires when Sam realizes his crazy scheme is crazy and Angel realizes Sam's friend isn't all talk. Quietly heartbroken and frustrated, Angel decides to treat Sam in kind by frustrating him, and the first item on the agenda is not going back to Seattle like they discussed. Not that Sam knows; as far as he's aware, Angel's just decided to take him up on his offer.
An angry and heartbroken George rejects Angel outright before eventually coming around to her charms, though his younger brother Billy is interested from the start. But once George realizes that she's fallen for Sam, he does everything in his power to help them by coaxing his partner, up to and including staging a fake romance for Sam's "benefit".
Meanwhile, local con man Frankie Cannon (Kovacs) finagles his way into saloon ownership, the boys' gold mine, and Angel's association. This culminates in a scam that allows Cannon to seize the gold mine by using his illiterate drunkard janitor, which leads the group to fight Cannon's scam in court, which naturally ends with an all-out brawl in the town's muddy streets. Once the gold is secure, Angel at first decides to leave but Sam (who finally tells her how he really feels) and eventually the entire town convince her to stay.
Tropes in this film:
- Affably Evil: Frankie Cannon.
- Bedmate Reveal: Beautifully done when Sam finds the dog Clancy in Angel's bed.
- Book-Ends: The film begins and ends with an free-for-all brawl.
- Broken Bird: Angel, who has a vaguely sketched past that has left her a cynic where men are concerned.
- Can't Act Perverted Toward a Love Interest
- Curbstomp Battle: Sam McCord vs Frankie Cannon? I'll give you three guesses.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Angel seems to have had a rough life before she met Sam.
- The Determinator: Sam McCord.
- Expository Theme Tune / Title Theme Tune: Performed by Johnny Horton, it became a #1 country and #4 pop hit.Where the river is windin'
Big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska
They go North, the rush is on
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Sam, George, and little Billy Pratt.
- Just a Kid: Justified with George's little brother Billy, who constantly fumbles over himself even before the beautiful Angel arrives. He resents the ensuing treatment.
- Ms. Fanservice: Angel.
- Femme Fatale: Seems Angel may have been one in the past.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Angel, real name Michelle.
- The Matchmaker: Sam tries to be one for George, then George tries to be one for Sam. Did I mention that this was done with the exact same girl twice?
- Operation: Jealousy: To find out if Sam is in love with Angel.George: "He's reached his silent period. I once saw him like this when someone had stolen his favorite horse."
- The Plan: Frankie is very good at useing complicated schemes to get what he wants.
- Running Gag: Boggs never does get to finish his song.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: George and Sam. The first's a consummate romantic and the second's at his wit's end trying to deal with it.
- Smug Snake: Frankie, pardon me if I don't faint from shock.
- Unwitting Pawn: Boggs, the janitor.
- Woman Scorned: Downplayed with Angel, who falls in love with Sam just enough to take it quite hard when she later realizes Sam really wasn't intending to get himself a wife, and from then on takes a contrarian approach wherever Sam is concerned.