In nineteenth-century upstate New York, Molly Larkins (Gaynor) works as a cook for Erie Canal driver Jotham Klore (Charles Bickford). Meanwhile, Dan Harrow (Fonda) is becoming a driver too, although he's only planning to stick around until he earns enough money to buy a farm. This outrages Molly, who thinks life on the canal is ideal. But despite their differing views on the canal, Dan and Molly find themselves attracted to each other.
The film was based on a 1934 play of the same name, which was in turn based on the 1929 novel Rome Haul. In 1953, the film received a musical remake.
This film provides examples of:
- Anachronism Stew: While no exact year is ever specified, most of the period references point strongly in the direction of circa 1850, especially when the Erie Canal is said to have been built "twenty-five years ago."note However, we see a world map with a united Germany, a united Italy, and modern-day U.S. state borders. Also, characters repeatedly sing the iconic Erie Canal song, which wasn't written until 1905.
- Call to Agriculture: Dan's goal throughout the film is to get his own farm.
- End of an Age: The film takes place against the backdrop of the Erie Canal losing its importance to the emerging railroads.
- Feminine Women Can Cook: Much is made of Molly being a brilliant cook. It is her profession, after all.
- Love Triangle: Molly has to choose between Dan Harrow (the good guy) and Jotham Klore (the bad guy).
- Young Future Famous People: Molly, Klore, and Fortune meet a young John Wilkes Booth. And it just so happens that they have a newspaper with an article about Abraham Lincoln railing against the expansion of slavery. Fortune predicts that Lincoln will be famous someday, to which the young Booth replies that he will also be famous.