At the turn of the 20th century, child runaway Nugget Saunders (Barry Curtis) arrives in an Oklahoma boomtown to find his elder brother Clint (Hudson) running a casino in a bawdy house where his lover Tacey Cromwell (Baxter) is madam.
Deciding to go straight, Clint and Tacey head for a new town and a new lifestyle, with Nugget in tow. When they encounter orphan Seely Dowder (Natalie Wood), whose father was killed in a mining accident, they take her in too. Clint gets a respectable job at the town’s new bank, where he encounters the scheming and viperish Judith Watrous (Julie Adams), the senator and bank owner’s daughter.
Judith has eyes for Clint, and she hatches a plan to use her father’s money and power to gain legal custody of the children – and to drive Tacey out of town as an unfit mother. Clint makes a miserable marriage to Judith in order to look after the kids. But Tacey is primed for her next gamble.
A turbulent tearjerker, beautifully staged and shot, with young Natalie Wood a cool and commanding presence amid the melodrama.