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In Nineteenth century California, orphan Mary Robbins and her Uncle Davey cross the mountains into California and meet Father Sienna, who tells them about a bandit known as Ramerez. Ramerez, a white man who was reared by Indians, hears young Mary singing and is intrigued by her. Years later, Mary runs the Polka Saloon in the town of Cloudy Mountain. Sheriff Jack Rance, is in love with Mary, and has just given her a piano for her birthday, As "The Professor," an alcoholic old barfly plays, Mary sings for her customers, all of whom adore her. The next day, she goes by stage across the moutains to Monterey to see Father Sienna. While crossing the mountains, the coach is stopped by Ramerez, who is immediately attracted to the now grown Mary, and let's them pass unharmed. In Monterey, Mary learns that Father Sienna has been receiving mysterious, anonymous contributions for the church. The next day, as Mary sings the "Ave Maria" at Mass, a hidden Ramerez sees her and later overhears the Governor inviting her to a ball. The next night, using a uniform he has stolen from Mary's appointed escort, "Lieutenant Richard Johnson," Ramerez poses as the officer and calls for Mary to drive her to the ball. On the way, his attentions become too arduous and Mary slaps him, then drives off to the ball by herself. At the ball, Ramerez apologizes to Mary and they dance, then he rushes off, when the real Lieutenant Johnson arrives and reveals what has happened to him. After Ramerez leaves, Rance tells Mary that he has been trying to catch the bandit Ramerez and plans to trap him by letting it be known that a huge shipment of gold is being stored in the Polka. Back in Cloudy Mountain, Ramerez enters the Polka and is surprised to see Mary. Because he is a stranger, Rance is suspicious, and, although Mary pretends to be an old friend of the stranger, Rance remains suspicious and tells him to leave town. Mary invites Ramerez to her cabin for dinner that night and he comes, but to throw Rance off his trail, Ramerez's friend "Mosquitto" pretends to be the bandit and rides out of town, chased by Rance's posse. A short time later, at the bandits' camp, Nina Martinez, Ramerez' jealous sweetheart, learns that he has fallen in love with Mary and goes to Rance to tell him where Ramerez is. Rance and his men then go to Mary's cabin and, while Ramerez hides outside, Rance tells Mary everything. Mary is hurt and angry when she learns the truth about the man with whom she has fallen in love. She then hears shots outside and she opens the door to find a wounded Ramerez. She quickly hides him in the cabin's loft so that Rance will not find him, and when Rance returns, she denies knowing where Ramerez is. When blood drops onto Rance's hand from Ramerez' wound, however, the bandit is forced to come down and face the sheriff. Mary then pleads with Rance to save Ramerez' life and Rance agrees to cut cards to decide his rival's fate. Mary wins, but when Rance sees that she has cheated, the only way she can save Ramerez's life is by promising to marry Rance. He then allows Ramerez time to ride away. Some time later, in Father Sienna's chapel in Monterey, Mary prepares for her wedding. She hears Ramerez singing to her and he comes to see her one last time. She begs him to go away, but when Rance realizes that Mary truly loves the bandit, he tells Father Sienna that he has put the wrong name in the bridal book. Finally, Ramerez and Mary cross the mountains together.