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In upstate New England, struggling novelist Fred Blake lives on a remote farm in the hills with his wife Elizabeth and young son David. Embittered by his inability to complete his novel, Fred also remains guilt-ridden over Elizabeth and David's isolation on the lonely farm, but nevertheless resents the persistent affable attentions of their hired hand, Hank. One morning as a winter storm moves in, the Blakes are surprised by the arrival of Fred's brother Charlie and his two companions, the gun-toting Benjie and platinum blonde, Edna Rogers. As snow begins falling outside, Charlie reveals he has suffered a gunshot wound in the leg and needs help, but angrily orders Fred not to contact the local doctor. In spite of Benjie's threatening demeanor and Fred's clear distress, Elizabeth, who was once in love with Charlie, agrees to help him and takes him to an upstairs bedroom. Charlie clings to a briefcase, which contains a large amount of money and a gun. Offering no explanation for his condition, Charlie again refuses a doctor and insists Elizabeth remove the bullet. After the successful procedure, Benjie turns on a radio and everyone in the house hears a report of a bank robbery in nearby Batterskill in which a policeman was killed. The Blakes realize Charlie and the others were involved, but Charlie assures the admiring David that he is not a killer. In private, Elizabeth castigates Charlie for bringing danger to their home, but Charlie insists he means them no harm. Meanwhile, David, who is unsure what to make of his good-natured uncle, is also captivated by Edna's brassy appearance. Sensing David's interest, Edna admits she was once an actress and sings for him. Frustrated by his helplessness, Fred confronts Benjie, who tauntingly slaps him. Fred retrieves his hunting rifle, enraging Benjie who beats him despite David's attempt to intervene. Only Charlie's appearance puts a halt to Benjie's outburst. Charlie apologizes to his brother, but, humiliated by Benjie's action and realizing that Elizabeth still harbors feelings for Charlie, Fred vows to turn the robbers in if given a chance. That night, Benjie attempts to take his share of the money from Charlie's briefcase, but is thwarted when David awakens Charlie in time. The next morning, Charlie confides in David that despite being younger than Fred, he has always felt responsible for helping his brother. Charlie then asks David about his dog, and the boy acknowledges receiving the pet as a gift from an unknown sender, but Fred eventually shot the dog for killing chickens. Later, when David asks Fred and Elizabeth if they know who sent him the dog, Fred bitterly orders Elizabeth to answer David and she replies that David's father gave him the dog. Confused by this and other comments between Elizabeth and Fred that he has overheard, David begins to wonder if Charlie is his father. Elizabeth then demands that Charlie and the others depart as soon as possible, but Charlie insists that the continuing heavy snow fall has made it impossible. Later, Charlie sees Hank approaching the house and orders everyone into the living room, where Benjie holds a gun to David's head. Elizabeth meets Hank who reveals he was snowed in on a neighboring farm all night. As the others listen from the living room, Hank abruptly confesses his affection for Elizabeth and wonders how she can remain with the bitter, unhappy Fred. After Hank blurts out a proposal, Fred joins Elizabeth in the living room, prompting Hank to apologize and depart. Later when Benjie mocks Fred for his continual failures, Elizabeth defends him, triggering another assault by Benjie, which Charlie again halts. Charlie then calms the restless Benjie by revealing his plan to have David lead them over the snowy mountain pass the next day. That evening in private, Elizabeth apologizes to Fred for Hank's comments, but Fred sadly acknowledges that he knows that despite his love for her, Elizabeth has never cared for him in return. Joining the others, the Blakes hear a radio report that a wounded member of the robbery gang has died and the police suspect the remaining robbers are nearby. Before bedtime, Elizabeth asks David not to spend time with Charlie and, despite his conflicted feelings, David agrees. Later that night, however, David meets with Charlie, but refuses his request to lead them over the pass despite Charlie's emotional revelations of how disappointments in his early life forced him into a life of crime. Early the next morning, David goes downstairs and, spotting fresh tracks in the snow, realizes that Fred has gone for the police. Not wanting Charlie to be arrested, David wakens him and agrees to lead them away, despite Elizabeth's protests. Leaving Elizabeth tied up, Charlie and the others, in heavy clothing and snow shoes, depart, but soon Edna grows flustered with the bulky clothes. Irritated by her constant complaining, Benjie shoves Edna, who falls over a small ravine and breaks her leg. Charlie then tosses her some of the money and in spite of her hysterical pleas, abandons her. Meanwhile down the hill, Hank comes upon Fred, who has frozen to death in the snow. Alarmed, Hank hurries to the Blake farm and finds Elizabeth, whom he frees before setting off to rescue David. On the climb, Charlie is slowed by his painful wound and Benjie's continued efforts to take the bag containing the money. Charlie gently refuses David's pleas to stay with him and warns David that although he has taken Benjie's gun away, he remains dangerous. When Charlie collapses in exhaustion later, Benjie takes the bag and gun. David continues climbing and, upon reaching the top of the pass, spots a highway below. Afraid that Benjie will kill him once he finds the way out of the mountains, David attempts to lead him away from the summit. Benjie refuses to believe him, forcing David to attack him with a small penknife. Benjie hurls David aside and as Charlie attacks him, David retrieves the fallen gun and shoots Benjie, attracting Hank's attention down below. Charlie then carries the bruised David to an empty ranger hut and bids him goodbye, but is shot only a few feet outside the cabin by Hank. At the hospital later, the dying Charlie apologizes to Elizabeth and asks to see David. Charlie then admits he lied to David and assumes complete responsibility for his life of crime. David asks if Charlie gave him the dog and if he is his father, but Charlie only asks David to remember him and then dies.