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The Big Trees

The Big Trees(1952)

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In 1900, after a lumber mill deal in Wisconsin almost lands Jim Fallon in jail, he convinces a syndicate to support his effort to take over land in the Northern California redwood country. Due to an act of Congress, land claims filed under the Stone and Timber Act of 1865 are no longer valid, and Fallon proposes to claim the newly available timber illegally. To convince his men to go with him to California, even though he cannot pay them, Fallon concocts a false fight with a rival lumberman, which is stopped by a stranger named Yukon Burns. Impressed by Yukon's honest face, Fallon dispatches him to the area near Eureka, California, with instructions to scout the situation. When Fallon arrives in California with his timber boss, Frenchy LeCroix, he learns that Yukon has promised the homesteaders reimbursement for the full value of their land. Among the grateful settlers is a religious community headed by Elder Bixby. His widowed daughter, Alicia Chadwick, invites Fallon to dinner, at which she plans to demonstrate the sacred qualities of the giant sequoia. Later, when Fallon informs Yukon, whom he has nicknamed "Lucky," that he has no intention of paying the settlers for the land, Yukon threatens to end their arrangement, and Fallon pretends to back down. Alicia continues her attempt to persuade Fallon not to log the trees, but he is interested in her only as a romantic partner. When Fallon's men arrive in town, Yukon realizes that he intends to give each one the money necessary to file a claim, then take over all the land himself. Yukon, who has come to like the settlers, then demands Fallon's money at gunpoint. Fallon wins the ensuing fistfight and offers Yukon money to return to Alaska, but he decides to stay and help the homesteaders fight Fallon. Later Fallon quarrels with Frenchy, and Cleve Gregg, a rival timberman, offers the timber boss a job with him. Meanwhile, Yukon, who is now the town marshal, tries to rouse the community to fight Fallon, but they refuse to use violence against him. Alicia and Yukon then contrive an "accident" to destroy the claims filed by Fallon's men, and use the resulting delay to cut and sell enough of the smaller trees to earn the money to file for the land themselves. Fallon accuses them of cutting trees on land they do not own, but after they plead guilty, Judge Crenshaw sentences them to thirty days hard labor cutting trees on government land. When Fallon's funds run out, and his men demand payment, Frenchy suggests that he form a partnership with Gregg. As a safeguard, Fallon asks his old lover, Daisy Fisher, to buy the local dam under her real name, Dora Figg. Now that he controls the dam, the settlers cannot get their timber to market. At Frenchy's urging, Fallon's men start to cut the sequoia, and one falls on the Bixby cabin, killing Alicia's father. As head of the company, Fallon is arrested for murder, but Alicia, who is starting to fall in love with him, intervenes, stating that Fallon tried to save her father's life. Now Frenchy and his allies plot to kill Fallon, and one night, when Fallon and Yukon leave the hotel, shots are fired, killing Yukon. Angered by the death of his friend, Fallon sends for the judge and agrees to plead guilty to fraud to stop Frenchy and Gregg. However, when he asks Daisy to sign papers relinquishing her ownership of the dam, she reveals that she was tired of being used by Fallon and has already sold it to Frenchy. Fallon informs the homesteaders, and Alicia suggests that they use an old mining railroad on their property to bypass the dam. They deliver several loads before Frenchy's men cut through a trestle, and push an engine and caboose, in which Alicia is working, toward the bridge. Moments before the bridge collapses, Fallon separates the caboose from the train. Alicia is saved, but with the bridge destroyed, the remaining timber cannot be sold. Fallon finally convinces the settlers to blow up the dam. Frenchy dies in the explosion, and a reformed Fallon marries Alicia and settles on the land which remains in the hands of the homesteaders.