The film opens near the "last stop on the subway", a terminal in Alaska, which appears to be emerging from deep snow in the middle of nowhere. A tough-looking cowboy (Buster Keaton) emerges. He arrives at a small settlement, finding people gambling in a saloon. He tries to rob them by scaring them with the cutout of a poster of a man holding a gun, which he places at the window, as if he has an accomplice. He tells the gamblers to raise their hands in the air. Frightened, they hand over their cash, but soon they find out the truth when a drunk man falls over the cutout. Keaton is thrown out through the window.
Next, he mistakenly enters a house thinking that it is his own house. Inside, he sees a man and a woman kissing. Thinking the woman is his wife, he gets red-hot angry and shoots the couple, later to realize his mistake. He goes to his own house, where he finds his wife (Sybil Seely), who greets him, but he treats her coldly. She tries to pick a vase from a shelf, but it drops and knocks her out. Investigating the shooting of the couple, a passing policeman then knocks at Keaton's door after hearing his wife scream. Keaton saves himself from arrest by playing music on gramophone and pretending to dance with his unconscious wife. As soon as the officer leaves, he drops her on the floor.
He looks out of the window and sees his pretty neighbor (Bonnie Hill). He quickly dons an elegant white suit and picks flowers (mysteriously growing from the deep snow-a sign remarks "Keep Off the Grass"). He attempts to woo her, but she rejects him. Her husband comes back home and Keaton's character has to flee once more.
The neighbors leave on a sled for a new, even more bleak northerly location. Keaton gets a "car" (a dog sled with an engine) driven by a friend (Joe Roberts) to follow them, but it breaks down, so he has to hail a passing "taxi" (a horse drawn sled with upholstery). The taxi is stopped by a traffic warden riding a motorized sled with a propeller for speeding on the snow, but they get away. Keaton is up to his old tricks-he "reverses" the propeller so the officer goes backward into a lake. Near the north pole, he and Roberts find a hotel-like igloo with wall-hangings of a stag's head and a guitar. In a gag Keaton tries to hang his hat on a stag head antler but it keeps falling off. They attempt to survive by fishing in the manner of the Eskimos. Keaton makes snow-shoes from guitars and attempts to catch fish using tinned sardines as bait, but just creates trouble—he first falls through the ice and then tries to fish—but the only things he "catches" are another fisherman's baited fish and the other fisherman himself!
Forced to flee back to the igloo, where his companion is hoovering the ice floor, Keaton sees his pretty neighbor again in her new hut. Fortified by drinking a bottle of cola, he decides he will force himself on her in the manner of Erich von Stroheim's character from the film Foolish Wives. He appears in Stroheim-like clothing at her hut, but is chased by her husband. Pretending to be a snowman, he eludes him and returns to the hut. Roberts tries to fight the husband but ends up falling into a lake. The husband returns to find his wife weeping on the floor as Keaton stands over her. He wrestles with Keaton. Keaton's wife appears and shoots her husband. The wounded Keaton takes a pistol and tries to shoot the husband, but at that moment a janitor wakes Keaton up in the front row of a film theater (the gun in the last scene turns out to be a folded newspaper in his hand) and Keaton realizes that it was all a dream!
The film followed Roscoe Arbuckle's arrest for the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe. While studio executives ordered Arbuckle's industry friends and fellow actors (whose careers they controlled) not to publicly speak up for him, Keaton did make a public statement in support of Arbuckle's innocence. However, William S. Hart, who had never met or worked with Arbuckle, made a number of damaging public statements in which he presumed that Arbuckle was guilty. Arbuckle later wrote a premise for a film parodying Hart as a thief, bully and wife beater which Keaton purchased from him. Hart was widely believed in the industry to be "prone to domestic violence" and Keaton believed that Hart was helping to convict Arbuckle. Keaton produced, directed and starred in The Frozen North, the film that resulted.
Keaton wears a small version of Hart's campaign hat from the Spanish–American War and a six-shooter on each thigh, and during the scene in which he shoots the neighbor and her husband, he reacts with thick glycerin tears, a trademark of Hart's. Keaton spoofs Hart's demeanor, and comically attempts Hart's iconic one handed cigarette roll. Keaton spends a lot of time standing and staring to imply Hart's wooden acting, which is reinforced in the scene where he puts a picture of a cowboy in a doorway to dupe gamblers, and the image on the picture is Hart. Audiences of the 1920s recognized the parody and thought the film hysterically funny. However, Hart himself was not amused by Keaton's antics, particularly the crying scene, and did not speak to Keaton for two years after he had seen the film. The comedy also briefly parodies Erich von Stroheim's womanizing character from the film Foolish Wives. In contrast to Hart, von Stroheim was delighted with the parody of his character.
The film was photographed on location at Donner Lake outside Truckee, California, in mid-winter. The film's opening intertitles give it its mock-serious tone, and are taken from The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert W. Service.
Many of the gag sequences from The Frozen North, including the fishing sequence and wearing guitars as snowshoes while carrying a mattress were later used by The Three Stooges in Rockin' thru the Rockies.
The gag of a protagonist being in a film in a dream sequence and waking up in the end is also in the film Sherlock, Jr.Buster Keaton as The Bad Man
Joe Roberts as The Driver
Sybil Seely as Wife
Bonnie Hill as The Pretty Neighbor
Freeman Wood as Her Husband
Edward F. Cline as The Janitor