Yellow Sky is the name of the ghost town Stretch (Gregory Peck), Dude (Richard Widmark), and the rest of a gang of outlaws arrive at after crossing a wilderness of inhospitable salt flats. They are practically dead from heat and thirst, but once their bellies are filled, their thoughts turn toward greed. They have plenty of bank-stolen money, all of it temporarily useless. At Yellow Sky, in which they find water, they also encounter "Mike" (Anne Baxter), a young woman who lives together with her prospecting grandfather. The men sense rightly that the two cannot have remained in the middle of nowhere for nothing. From this point on, gold fever commands their undivided attention.
That late 1940s filmmakers were heavy into gender values is hard to believe. Very probably, considering the overall mentality of mid-20th century Hollywood, they wanted to put Anne Baxter into tight jeans, have her yank a pistol from a holster, talk tough, and point a rifle. But off to one side, since this is not the main plot, the film does in fact manage to explore the abilities and shortcomings of a frontier woman. She holds her own -- to an extent. She also tenderly cares for her grandfather, to whom she is attached and loyal. And her attitude to Stretch, played as he is by an attractive actor, is summed up with a punch that sends him reeling. Alone, however, she contemplates wearing a dress from a fashion drawing.
Some of the men start to get ideas, too, inspired by "Mike". None reflect very flatteringly on the stronger sex. But that has been the general consensus of opinion since time immemorial. It is Dude who represents an alternate asexual position. He rises up, and from scene to scene, challenges the authority of Stretch, who, until now, has been giving the orders. Dude can always offer the men a distinct contrast vis-a-vis Stretch, whom he depicts as soft. Stretch, after all, despite a rough exterior, dotes on "Mike"-related, domesticated ideas.
The truly outstanding element of this film has to do with the interaction of the men, the single woman, and Apaches, too, with a godawful piece of barren real estate where land is the cheapest commodity. Yellow Sky has gone bust. The mine is closed. Nary a citizen with the exception of "Mike" and her grandfather have lingered on. It has water, however, and not only then, but today as well, H2O in the West, more than anything else, is the most precious commodity. Anyone who could change its arid and semi-arid terrain into a Garden would never lack for friends.