The strange and terrible things that the lust for gold can do to the soul comprise the message of this innovative, epic account of the Alaskan gold rush. Unlike Chaplin's version of the same era story, which combined hardship with comedy and culminated with a happy ending, Clarence Brown's film is disturbing. Though he follows the lives of many prospectors throughout the movie, one story receives extra attention. It is that of a gold miner who finally strikes it rich, suffers terribly to return to his true love and discovers that she has become a tawdry dance-hall girl working for a known murderer. Enraged, the prospector gets into a terrible battle that culminates in a tragic scene -- perhaps designed to make us realize how insignificant we are in the face of nature's ruthless grandeur.
by Sandra Brennan synopsis