Richard Dix plays the title-role, of a dashing highwayman and bandit in 1870's Australia, in this strangely delightful mix of swashbuckler and musical. But the real star is Irene Dunne as Hilda Bouverie, an impoverished serving girl who wants to sing. Left orphaned and homeless by the deaths of her parents, Hilda is now a servant in the home of the Clarksons, the wealthiest family in the province. Hilda is glad to have a roof over her head and three meals a day, but won't really be happy unless she gets a chance to sing, and she has the voice to match her aspirations. Mr. Clarkson (Henry Stephenson) is kind and encouraging enough to her, but his wife (Mary Boland) is a harridan who treats Hilda and her other maid Annie (Una O'Connor) as little better than slaves; and Mrs. Clarkson is especially jealous of Hilda, as she also aspires to a singing career (but is sorely lacking a voice), and is eagerly awaiting a visit by London-based composer and impressario Sir Julian Kent (Conway Tearle). And then in rides Stingaree (Richard Dix), a highwayman new to the province, who is already a legend elsewhere in Australia. The authorities, led by the boorish Inspector Radford (George Barraud), know he is there and are set to catch him, but he's smarter than they are and faster on his feet, and outwits them. Stingaree kidnaps Sir Julian and, learning of the Clarksons and their wealth, plans to rob them masquerading as Sir Julian. But when he chances to hear Hilda singing, and gets to meet her, he abandons his plan and, instead, decides to help her -- his ruse is uncovered, however, and he is forced to flee, and takes the unwilling girl with him. Together in his lair in the forest, Hilda discovers that Stingaree truly does love her -- he is a man who takes whatever he wants and wants everything, but, as he tells her, "You are as safe here as you wish to be." Stingaree arranges a daring raid on the Clarkson home that allows Hilda's singing to be heard by Sir Julian -- the impressario offers her the chance to go to London, and at a career as an opera singer. She's reluctant to accept because Stingaree has been captured, but the highwayman insists that she do it, telling her that he happily gave up his freedom to give Hilda hers. And she conquers the operatic stages of Europe, in a career that takes her to Berlin, the Paris Opera, La Scala, and London's Covent Garden, and leading roles in Trovatore, Martha, and the rest of the major operatic repertory of the period. But she can't forget the sacrifice that Stingaree made for her, or the love they share for each other, and decides that even if it means giving up everything, she must return to Australia to find him.
by Bruce Eder synopsis