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A backwoodsman and his son fight to build a new home in Texas.
In 1820, widower Big Eli Wakefield is leaving Kentucky with his young son, Little Eli, and their dog, Faro, to escape from the feud between the Wakefields and the Fromeses. Little Eli's most prized possession is his father's hunting horn, which Eli promises he will be able to blow when he is "growed." One day, while on their way to Humility to catch the steamship to Texas, the pair stops in Prideville, where the constable sics his dog on Faro. When Eli prevents the constable from shooting the triumphant Faro, he is thrown in jail, and tavern worker Hannah Bolen tends to Little Eli. That night, Hannah explains to Little Eli that she is an indentured servant, or "bond girl," and listens wistfully as Little Eli relates his dreams of freedom in Texas. When Hannah overhears the constable trying to wheedle money from the Fromes brothers in exchange for allowing them to kill Eli, she steals the jail keys and, after freeing Eli, camps in the woods with the Wakefields. They are soon found, however, and Decker, to whom Hannah is bound, accuses Eli of stealing her. Outraged that the kindly Hannah is indentured, Eli uses the money he has saved to buy her freedom. Little Eli agrees with the decision, and soon the trio reaches Humility, where they are greeted by Eli's prosperous brother Zack and his wife Sophie, who hope to convince the rustic Eli to settle down. To prevent Eli from earning enough money for boat fare, Zack suggests that he fish for mussels, knowing that Eli will never make a profit. When Eli and Little Eli find a large freshwater pearl one day, Eli shows it to Zybee Fletcher, a garrulous medicine show man. Fletcher and tavern owner Stan Bodine, who despises Eli, convince him that the pearl is valuable and should be offered to President James Monroe. After the naïve Eli leaves, everyone roars with laughter, as freshwater pearls are worthless. That night, Eli and Little Eli begin a letter to the president, but are interrupted by the arrival of Susie Spann, the town's schoolteacher, to whom Eli is attracted. The next day, Eli mails the pearl to the president, and Bodine and Fletcher tell him about their hoax. Infuriated, Elis is about to beat Fletcher when Zack stops him, and later, Little Eli is teased by the other school children about his father's naïveté. While Zack tutors Eli about business matters, Eli thanks him for his help and wonders if he and his son will ever adapt to town life. At the schoolhouse, Little Eli is being bullied by Luke Lester when he hears the whistle of the Texas-bound steamboat and bolts from the room. The other children follow, as do most of the adults, and they are treated to a minstrel show and a speech by Pleasant Tuesday Babson, the leader of the Texas expedition. At dinner that night, Zack and Sophie reprimand Eli and his son for leaving work and school, and an embittered Little Eli shouts that he hates living in Humility. Realizing that he has been ignoring his son, Eli promises to take him hunting if he apologizes to Susie for disrupting class, and the next day, after Little Eli apologizes, Susie invites Eli to dinner. Eli accepts, but later forgets and instead takes Little Eli hunting. They are joined by Hannah, who tries to repay Eli the money he spent to free her. Eli realizes that Hannah obtained the money by selling herself into servitude to Bodine, and insists that she tear up her contract. Hannah pleads with him to remember his dreams of Texas, but when Eli suddenly recalls his date with Susie, he abruptly leaves. Eli arrives at Susie's house late, but she forgives him and accepts a kiss. Later, when the mail is delivered, the townsfolk are astonished to see that Eli has received a response from Washington, D.C. Eli intimates that the letter contains money then swaggers out, but when he and Little Eli open the missive, they find that it is a polite rejection from a secretary. Still desperate to show Bodine that he has succeeded, Eli, at Zack's behest, travels to a nearby bank to withdraw money for tobacco-buying season. Little Eli accompanies his father, and on the boat ride back, Eli outwits some gamblers and wins at roulette. Soon after, Eli, clothed in a suit instead of his customary buckskin, enters the tavern. Hannah is disheartened when Zack announces that Eli is going into business with him, and Bodine is angered when Eli boasts about receiving money from the president. Later, desiring revenge, Bodine encourages Luke to fight with Little Eli, and when Eli arrives to stop them, Bodine strikes him with his bullwhip. Unable to get close enough to disarm Bodine, Eli receives many vicious cuts, until Hannah rolls a wheel wagon onto the whip, and Eli is able to beat him fairly. That night, after Eli and Susie inform Little Eli that they are engaged and will be living in Humility, the heartbroken boy accuses his father of lying to him about Texas. Eli orders his son to bury their hunting horn, so that it will not remind them of their former life, but instead Little Eli manages to blow the horn and runs away. Crying, Susie confesses to Eli that she will never be able to be the kind of adventure-seeking wife that he needs. While searching for Hannah, Little Eli goes to Bodine's still house, where he finds Bodine with the Fromes brothers. The Fromeses hold Hannah and Little Eli hostage, and the next day, Eli, accompanied by Babson, goes to the still after unsuccessfully searching the town for them. As they walk, Babson offers to make Eli his lieutenant in the Texas expedition, and urges him to follow his heart. When Eli approaches the cabin, the Fromeses order Bodine to shoot Babson, and when he refuses, they kill him. One of the brothers then kills Babson, but the other is shot dead by Hannah, who has grabbed Bodine's gun. While the remaining brother reloads his rifle, Eli charges him, reaching him before he re-arms. After a fierce struggle, Eli kills the man, and a relieved Little Eli throws himself into his father's arms. Hannah starts to walk away, but Eli urges her to come to Texas with them, telling her that from now on, they are going to "live it bold."
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||World premiere in Chicago, IL: 22 Jul 1955; Los Angeles premiere: 10 Aug 1955|
|Release Date:||1955||Production Date:||
|Color/B&W:||Color (Technicolor)||Distributions Co:||United Artists Corp.|
|Sound:||Mono (Western Electric Sound System)||Production Co:||James Productions, Inc., Hecht-Lancaster Productions|
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I remember as a child, watching this on TV reruns. Burt L. was a groundbreaker, and believe he directed as well as starred in this film. My dad always...