Cast & Crew
In the gold rush town of Sandy Bar, California, gambler Tennessee wins a large sum of money from businessman Turner, who then accuses Tennessee of cheating. Tennessee is nonplussed by Turner's threats and later gives ten percent of his winnings to his lover, Elizabeth Farnham, known as "The Duchess," who owns the "marriage parlor" where he gambles. The next day, Tennessee is confronted in the street by Clifford, another disgruntled poker player. Clifford prepares to shoot Tennessee in the back, but is himself shot by a passing stranger. Both Tennessee and the stranger, gold miner Cowpoke, are jailed until The Duchess and her girls, who witnessed the shooting, verify their claims of self-defense. Out of gratitude, Tennessee offers to put Cowpoke up at his house and suggests they become partners. The good-natured Cowpoke accepts Tennessee's offer and excitedly tells him about his fiancée, Goldie Slater, who is arriving on the next river boat. Goldie turns out to be one of Tennessee's former lovers, but to protect Cowpoke, the gambler pretends not to know her and arranges for her to stay with The Duchess. Later, Tennessee, a confirmed bachelor, gently tries to warn Cowpoke about Goldie, but the miner is oblivious and happily entrusts her with $5,000 in gold. Turner, meanwhile, has arranged with Reynolds, a professional gambler and killer, to play poker with Tennessee and then shoot him for cheating. Although The Duchess warns Tennessee about Reynolds, Tennessee shrugs off her concern and plays against him. After a series of extravagant bids, Tennessee forces Reynolds to fold and then outdraws him when he goes for his gun. The sheriff at first accuses Tennessee of provoking the deadly exchange, but soon discovers that the gambler was not cheating Reynolds, merely bluffing. Nevertheless, the sheriff demands that Tennessee and The Duchess, whose parlor he dislikes, leave town. To save Cowpoke, Tennessee decides to use his winnings to woo Goldie and convince her to go to San Francisco with him. The two stop first in Sacramento, where Tennessee gambles the night away and Goldie waits in frustration for him to romance her. Later, in Sandy Bar, The Duchess breaks the news of Goldie's departure to a stunned Cowpoke, who swears revenge against Tennessee. Cowpoke returns to his gold mine and helps illiterate prospector Grubstake McNiven draw a map of his new gold mine. In Sacramento, meanwhile, Tennessee abandons Goldie as she is boarding the San Francisco-bound boat and retrieves Cowpoke's money. By the time Tennessee arrives back in Sandy Bar, Grubstake is drunkenly celebrating his strike with the miners, who eagerly anticipate working his claim. Although at first furious with Tennessee, The Duchess finally forgives him for running away with Goldie and warns him about Cowpoke. Grubstake then shows up at Tennessee's, eager to tell him that because Tennessee had earlier advanced him some money, he is now part owner of the mine. After Grubstake shows Tennessee his map, Tennessee puts him to bed and hides the map inside a book. Unknown to Tennessee, Turner is spying on him through a window and sees him take the map. The next day, Tennessee finds the heartbroken Cowpoke at his mine and, after a bruising fight, reconciles with him. Just then, however, the sheriff and a posse ride up and accuse Tennessee of murdering Grubstake, whose body was discovered in the gambler's bed. When Grubstake's map turns up missing, Tennessee and Cowpoke are thrown in jail, but break out after Cowpoke reveals that he knows the location of Grubstake's mine. They race to the mine, arriving just as Turner is pulling out Grubstake's marker. During the ensuing gunfight, the sheriff arrives and orders them to drop their firearms. Instead, Turner prepares to shoot the distracted Tennessee, but Cowpoke lunges in front of him and takes the bullet. Enraged, Tennessee chases the fleeing Turner and strangles him until the sheriff intercedes. Later, the now married Duchess and Tennessee close the parlor and board the river boat to begin a new life.
D. D. Beauchamp
Van Nest Polglase
Eric Von Stroheim Jr.
You did hear what the man said...- Turner
If I heard him, I might have to kill him.- Tennessee
You're rotten, Tennessee, dirty. And what's more, you like it that way.- Duchess
I've never been in a place like this before.- Goldie Slater
Don't you worry. You'll feel right at home.- Duchess
Honey, I never could wait for anything, you know that. Especially trouble.- Tennessee
The onscreen title card reads: "Bret Harte's Tennessee's Partner." Although not listed in the credits, the film was presented in SuperScope, RKO's widescreen process. Hollywood Reporter news items add Helen Jay, Naji, Henry Faber and Kim Hampton to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. In 1947, Los Angeles Times announced that Vernon Clark was producing a version of Harte's story, starring Joel McCrea, for executive Harry Sherman. That version was never made and was not connected to the RKO film.
Harte's story, which was very loosely adapted for the 1955 version, was the source for three silent films: In 1916, Paramount released the Jesse L. Lasky production Tennessee's Pardner, directed by George Melford and starring Fannie Ward as "Tennessee" (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20). Producers Distributing Corp. released The Flaming Forties in 1924, directed by Tom Forman and starring Harry Carey, and in 1925, Paramount released The Golden Princess, directed by Clarence Badger and starring Betty Bronson (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30).
Released in United States Fall September 1955
Angie Dickinson has a bit part in the film.
Third filmed version of Bret Harte's story after 1918's "Tennessee's Pardner" and 1924's "The Flaming Forties."
Released in United States Fall September 1955