Adapted from George Sessions Perry’s novel and directed Jean Renoir, a poor family tries to work land they rent without much help from their neighbor.
Sam Tucker (Zachary Scott) and his wife Nona Tucker (Betty Field) head the family that works in the cotton fields. While picking cotton Uncle Pete (Paul Burns) collapses, and Sam gives him water. Sam tells Clyde that he will finish Pete’s row. Pete tells Sam and Nona to furrow their own crop and dies.
After the funeral little Daisy (Jean Vanderwilt) picks grapes and eats them with Granny Tucker (Beulah Bondi). Sam tells Nona he could make a deal for a mule with Harmie, and he could get a plow too. He plans to talk to the boss.
In his office Ruston (Paul Harvey) tells Sam it is okay with him, but he will hold him to his contract. Sam is borrowing a truck to move his things to strike out on his own. The family of five moves to a broken-down house that needs a lot of patching. He has second thoughts and will have to dig the well again. Granny says the water nearby is no good. Sam tells Nona they could go back to the camp. She asks about the ground, and he says it is rested and good. She says he will have to pull out the grass. They agree it would be good to work together. She says they could get water from a neighbor. She wants to stay so that he can be his own boss. Sam says they are moving in, and they are start unloading. Granny refuses to leave her chair on the truck, but Sam says she will go back to town with the truck. Sam adjusts the post holding up the roof. Nona says she got the stove working, and with Daisy and their son Jot they light it. They hear thunder, and it starts raining. Granny gets out of the chair and comes in the house. Sam uses a pot to catch water from the leaking roof. Sam rolls a cigarette for Nona and puts up a blanket for privacy.
Nona is washing clothes by the river, and Sam catches a large fish with his hands. He plans to take it to his neighbor and says she can have the smaller one.
Sam walks by the river and meets Finley (Norman Lloyd), nephew of Henry Devers (J. Carrol Naish). Sam gives him the fish. Devers says he can leave it if he does not want it. Becky Devers (Noreen Nash) introduces herself to Sam, and Henry sends her back to the house to finish the washing. Sam asks if they can borrow some of his well water. Devers ask Sam if he has money or tools. Sam says he has two good arms. Devers knows how Ruston takes advantage of renters. Sam asks Devers how he got started. Devers says he was a share-cropper. His wife and son died. Now he has a farm that is worth money. Sam thanks him for the water. Finley tells Sam that Henry is hoping to catch a large catfish.
During the winter Sam comes in with his rifle but says he got nothing. Nona has the children get in bed to keep warm. Nona says Daisy did not go to school because she does not have a coat. Granny knows they are not having dinner, and Nona says they will have corn-meal mush for breakfast. Sam takes a blanket from Granny so that Daisy can go to school. Nona tells crying Granny that Sam is the boss. Nona promises to get honey for Granny who says that Sam is a good man.
Nona has made a coat for Daisy out of the blanket. Sam lights a fire in an old tree, and a possum comes out. He shoots it and takes it home. Nona cooks the meat for dinner, and Sam says the blessing. Nona serves them each in turn. Daisy says it is bad to eat that kind of meat all the time.
Sam uses a machete to hack weeds. He connects two mules to a plow and pushes it into the earth. Nona helps him shoe a mule. Sam uses a rake in the field. Later the family sits on the porch, and Sam says they will plant their cotton soon.
In the spring by the river Sam tells his children how to catch the large catfish. He takes the line and wades into the river, casting it. Finley watches him.
Sam has a small tractor with two wheels pulled by the mules so that he can sit on it and spread the seeds. Granny says that Jot has the spring sickness. Nona tells Sam she is afraid.
Nona takes Jot to a doctor in town. He says Sam should get a cow so that he can drink milk. He asks what vegetables they have been eating, and she says they have none. The doctor tells them to spend their money on vegetables and lemons.
Harmie (Percy Kilbride) runs a grocery store. Sam comes in and shakes hands with Tim (Charles Kemper) who offers him a beer. Tim asks him to work in the factory with him. He can get him a job at $7 a day. They go into a saloon, and Lizzie (Estelle Taylor) asks if she knows him. Tim and Sam talk privately. Sam says this is the first time he has been able to farm his own crop. He hopes to make fifty bales. Sam likes working in the fields and feels more free. Tim says money makes him free. The bartender hides the $5 bill, and Tim asks for his change. Tim demands the $4 but leaves without it. Tim tells Sam to leave and starts throwing rocks at the windows. He goes inside and throws beer bottles. Lizzie throws them at Tim. The bartender gets a pistol and sneaks around from the back. Sam sees him and hits him with a rock, knocking him out. Tim and Sam escape.
Granny gets water from the river and wonders where they are going to get milk. Sam and Nona are working a corn field with shovels. Sam says he will get milk.
Sam visits Devers and advises him to work for men who have money. He cannot spare any milk which he gives to the pigs. Devers says Sam is a good worker and suggests he go back and work for Ruston. Sam hoped for neighborliness but is disappointed. As he is leaving, Becky offers him a bucket of milk. Finley sees her and knocks the bucket out of her hand.
Sam returns home and hears his boy crying. Nona comes out and says she cannot listen to his crying anymore. She falls down on the ground and cries. Sam asks God what he should do.
A truck arrives with Tim and a cow on the back. Harmie was driving and asks Tim if they had a good trip. Nona milks the cow as others watch.
Sam and Nona walk through their cotton field and sleep out on the porch. They wake up and see Finley and his cattle and pigs in their vegetable garden. Sam chases them away and starts to repair the fence. He tells Nona to go back in the house. Sam tells Finley they are going to his place to find out who did it. Sam asks Devers why he did it. Devers says Sam has to replace the rope at the well and does not want him coming around for water anymore. Sam hits Devers who has a knife. They fight, and Finley trips Sam. Devers kicks Sam and gets him down. Becky tells him not to stab Sam who says Devers wants him to leave there. Devers agrees and says he wanted to buy his farm. Finley approaches with a knife, and Sam knocks him down and Devers. Becky tells Sam to take care of his cut. Sam leaves, and Devers asks for his gun.
Devers and Finley see Sam washing his wound at the river. He pulls his line in with the big catfish. Devers decides not to shoot. He helps Sam with the line, and they bring it in. Devers says it is his fish, and he will give him a dollar for it. Devers asks for the fish in exchange for his garden. Nona and Becky join them, and Sam says Devers caught the fish.
Harmie weds Sam’s mother, and the Tuckers eat cake. Granny starts singing. Harmie opens a jug of whiskey, and the men pass it around. Tim gives Sam a drink from a bottle. Tim hides his bottle in the stove. Sam refuses to dance with Lizzie, saying he has a partner. Sam dances with Nona, and Harmie dances with his bride. Granny starts a fire in the stove, and Tim gets his hot bottle out but drops it. People laugh. Sam declares Nona the winner, and a woman hits Sam on the head. He falls and lays next to Tim. Later they hear thunder, and people leave. It rains, and Nona asks what will happen to their cotton. They go inside, and clothes on a line get soaked. The storm knocks down a power line, and the water floods. Nona wakes up Sam, and he sees the rain.
Sam and Nona bring their family back to the flooded farm in Harmie’s truck. Granny says she will not stay there any longer. Tim wakes up in the back. Nona tells Granny to stay there. Sam says his cotton is ruined. Nona tells Granny they have work to do. Sam looks for the cow, and Tim goes with him. Sam sees the cow in the river, and they swim after her. Sam leads the cow out of the river but hears Tim calling for help. Sam leaves the cow and swims after Tim who is holding on to a log. Sam helps him get out of the river. Sam says he is going to pack up his belongings and get out. They walk back to the house, and Nona says it is still standing. The bottled vegetables are okay, and she got the stove pipe up again. Granny says worse happen to her 43 years ago. She hangs things on a line. Tim asks Sam if he is coming to town with him. Sam says he is beginning to believe again. Sam likes farming to have food. Tim asks about the tools he needs too. Tim likes working in a factory and wants to help him. Nona has coffee for them and gives Granny honey.
Nona and Sam are working on the plowing. Sam says spring is coming early, and they can start planting.
This realistic drama portrays the difficult life of dirt-poor farmers who try to scratch out a living without money or the things that would make it easier. Nonetheless they like being independent and providing their own food.