Set in a coastal Maine mill town sometime around 1900, the painful love story brings together itinerant carnival worker Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) and virginal mill worker Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones), who fall passionately in love even though everyone thinks she could do a lot better. Hot-tempered and insecure, Billy wants to be a productive member of society, but he doesn't know how, and once he's married and Julie is pregnant, he fears he won't be able to provide. Their situation is contrasted with that of Julie's best friend, Carrie Pipperidge (Barbara Ruick), and her prosperous fiancé, Mr. Snow (Robert Rounseville).
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