Anyway, These Thousand Hills stars Don Murray as "Lat" Evans, a drifting cowboy who joins a cattle drive headed into Wyoming. He makes friends with Tom Ping (Stuart Whitman) and impresses the drive boss with his willingness to take on the hard work of bronc-busting new horses for the extra pay the job commands. As Lat explains to Tom one night, he grew up very very poor and he intends to change his circumstances as quickly as he can manage. He has managed to convince Tom to come with him to spend a winter in the high mountains trapping wolves for their hides, which command a good price. But Tom is unhappy with the isolation and the cruelty of killing hungry wolves with poisoned meat, so he leaves. Lat is soon injured and when he is returned to town, he finds himself in the care of Callie (Lee Remick), a dance hall girl with whom he has shared some deep secrets of his past. Unhappy because of his forced inactivity and the loss of his wolf pelts, Lat casts around for a way to get money to buy a ranch he feels will be his ticket to respectability and success. Those qualities will require a new set of companions, so he winds up cutting his ties to Tom and Callie in favor of local banking baron Marshal Conrad (Albert Dekker) and his niece Joyce (Patricia Owens) -- a decision that may end up costing him far more than money.
The story is interesting, offering a little commentary on how poverty may not confer nobility of character -- the beggar can be as greedy as the banker and just as unpalatable to be around when in the throes of his preferred vice. Therein lies the problem for Hills. Lat's greed and ambition are so blatant and all-consuming that even though we know his choices are likely to harm him, he's such an obnoxious slimeball we want it to happen. In the movies, as often in life, redemption comes at some price and the coin may be loss, tragedy or pain. After about an hour of watching Lat whine and connive, I didn't care if the story brought redemption for him or not, but I was sure eager for him to be hit with some loss, tragedy and pain. That ain't a great place for a movie to take the viewer vis-á-vis its protagonist.
Remick, Owens, Whitman, Dekker and the villainous Jehu (Richard Egan) are all adequate or better in their different roles, but they all have to play off Murray and his unlikeability sours pretty much everything else about the movie. That unlikeability does sort of help make a point mentioned above, that poverty as well as extreme wealth can create the ugliness of greed, but it doesn't seem like the kind of path screenwriter Alfred Hayes and director Richard Fleischer might have wanted to take to get there.