The film was directed by William A. Wellman and starred Clark Gable as cunning trapper Flint Mitchell, Ricardo Montalbán as Blackfoot Iron Shirt, John Hodiak as Brecan, María Elena Marqués as Kamiah, a Blackfoot chief's daughter Mitchell marries and later falls in love with, J. Carrol Naish as Nez Perce Looking Glass, and Adolphe Menjou as Pierre. Howard Keel, as Mitchell's son "Chip Mitchell", narrates.
In the 1830s in the Rocky Mountains, fur trapper Flint Mitchell (Clark Gable) meets at the summer "rendezvous" with other mountain men, cashing in his furs, drinking, and enjoying contests among his friends. He organizes a hunting "brigade" into the beaver-rich Blackfoot territory, buying horses and recruiting trappers, despite protests from his Scottish friend and former trading partner, Brecan (John Hodiak), who lives among the Blackfoot and warns him that the land belongs to them. Flint outbids Brecan for Kamiah (María Elena Marqués), the granddaughter of Blackfoot medicine man Bear Ghost and adopted daughter of a Nez Perce chief, Looking Glass (J. Carrol Naish). Brecan wants to return her to the Blackfoot, to promote peace between the tribes, while Flint wants to marry Kamiah and ensure the brigade's safety.
Pierre (Adolphe Menjou), a French Canadian trapper, and Captain Humberstone Lyon (Alan Napier), another Scotsman, who fought in the Battle of Waterloo, join Flint on the dangerous expedition. Kamiah successfully guides Flint and his men on their trek through the high passes filled with crippling snow drifts, and delivers them to the Blackfoot territory, where they build a stockade. Flint narrowly escapes capture and death at the hands of Ironshirt (Ricardo Montalban), a young Blackfoot prince and war chief, who kills Baptiste DuNord, one of Flint's best trappers. Ironshirt steals the brigade's horses, but Flint impresses Bear Ghost (Jack Holt), who orders them returned.
Though he marries Kamiah for reasons other than love and cannot speak her language, Flint falls in love with her. As Flint and Kamiah grow closer, Flint and Bear Ghost become good friends. Bear Ghost prevents Ironshirt from harming Flint and his men, but catastrophe strikes when Roy DuNord, another of Flint's men, kills Bear Ghost to avenge his brother's death. Although Brecan kills Roy, and Flint sinks into a grieving depression over the death of Bear Ghost, Ironshirt succeeds Bear Ghost as chief and resumes his campaign to drive the white trappers out of his country.
In the spring, Kamiah gives birth to a boy, Chip. On the way to the rendezvous, the brigade is attacked by a large war party under Ironshirt, and Kamiah is killed. With Chip strapped to its back, Kamiah's horse bolts during the attack and is chased by Ironshirt, who is intent on killing the boy. Flint manages to kill Ironshirt, however, and rescue his son. As the years pass, Flint takes Chip to live in the Blackfoot camp, where, Flint believes, Kamiah would have wanted him. Although Flint intends to have the boy formally educated in the East, Chip persuades him year after year to postpone his schooling, and he learns the ways of the mountains from his father.Clark Gable as Flint Mitchell
Ricardo Montalbán as Ironshirt (Blackfoot war chief)
John Hodiak as Brecan
Adolphe Menjou as Pierre (French trapper)
J. Carrol Naish as Looking Glass (Nez Perce chief)
Jack Holt as Bear Ghost (Blackfoot medicine man)
Alan Napier as Capt. Humberstone Lyon
George Chandler as Gowie (Lyon's assistant)
Richard Anderson as Dick Richardson
María Elena Marqués as Kamiah (Blackfoot princess)
Howard Keel as Narrator
James Whitmore as Old Bill
Chief Tahachee as Indian
Nipo T. Strongheart as Indian Chief
Evelyn Finley as Squaw
Bobby Barber as Gardipe
Timothy Carey as Baptiste DuNord
Russell Simpson as Hoback (uncredited)
During filming, Ricardo Montalbán was reportedly thrown off a horse, knocked out, and walked on by another horse, leaving him with a spinal injury. This injury recurred in 1993, which forced him into a wheelchair.
The film was shot entirely on location in the Rocky Mountains, mostly at altitudes between 9,000 and 14,000 feet, north of Durango, Colorado near Purgatory and Molas Pass, the main location sites.
The score for the film was composed and conducted by David Raksin, and incorporated the song "Oh Shenandoah" in its main title and end title. Additional music was composed and/or adapted (from Raksin's material) by Al Sendrey, and conducted by Johnny Green.Across The Wide Missouri, words and music by Ervin Drake and Jimmy Shirl
Skip to My Lou
Alouette, Pretty Alouette traditionals
Indian Lullaby, words and music by Alberto Colombo, Indian lyrics by Nipo T. Strongheart
The complete score was issued on CD in 2009, on Film Score Monthly records.
According to MGM records the film earned $2,789,00 in the US and Canada and $1,812,00 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $635,000.