Robert Wise directed thid western three years before his seminal THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and many years before his pedestrian STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. The script was by Lilly Hayward from an adaptation by Luke Short of his novel Gunman’s Chance. Shot in black and white, cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca, it had much the fell of noir films of the same period. Robert Mitchum, a mere stripling of thirty-one, is Jim Garry, a man come in response for help from an old friend, Tate Riling(Robert Preston).
Wet from the storm he’s riding through, he camps under a tree and just barely shinnies up a tree when a herd of cattle stampede through. Most of his outfit is ruined, he salvaging only one boot and his rifle. He’s accosted and taken back to a camp where he meets John Lufton(Tom Tully), a man suspicious, but nice enough, even willing to replace his outfit. They’d caught his horse mixed with the herd. Offered a job, he claims to be passing through. He’s advised to keep passing through. He likes Lufton in spite of that and agrees to deliver a note to his daughters.
There, as he’s about to cross the river, someone takes a shot at him from cover. A warning shot with several more delivered every time he tries to cross the river. Words seem to have no effect, so he turns and rides off, swiftly circling to find another crossing, sneaks up to learn a young woman was the one firing off at him. Her name is Amy Lufton(Barbara Bel Geddes of much later Dallas fame), though he doesn’t learn her name at the time. He amuses himself by returning the favor, spraying bullets to each side, driving her back until she falls in the river.
It’s at the house he learns the young woman’s identity when he delivers the message to the other daughter, Carol Lufton(Phyllis Thaxton, who later played Martha Kent in the first Superman movie). She wants to kill, but is stopped by a ranch hand, Frank Reardon(Tom Tyler, who’s last film role was in Plan 9 From Outer Space).
In town, he finds his friend, Tate, after being accosted by a group of men in the saloon. He learns why he’s been brought to town. Tate has a scheme, hatched with the new Indian agent, the new, crooked Indian agent, Jake Pindalest(Frank Faylen, father of Dobie Gillis, “and a good conduct medal!”). Lufton had been supplying beef to the army for the reservation. His 2500 head had been denied by Pindalest and he had a week to get them off the reservation. The plan was for Riling’s gunmen to harass him and keep him from getting them across the river. The army would seize them and Jim Garry was to be a stranger with money that comes along to help Lufton to cut his losses. Four dollars a head, then they would sell them to the army at regular contract price. Garry’s cut was to be twenty thousand.
Tate is goading homesteaders to help him, claiming Lufton will force them off their land for grazing land for his herd. Kris Barden(Walter Brennan) and his son, Fred(George Cooper) are two of them. Kris had once worked for Lufton before striking out on his own.
It takes only one stampede in which young Fred is shot by someone, with Garry right beside him, for him to get disgusted with his friend. He has a conscious and quits after telling Kris his son was killed.
You know how it goes from here. Garry ends up switching sides, after hard headed Amy persists in nagging him as he tries to ride away, following him for miles up until he camps for the night. She refuses to leave unless he returns with her.
And a bloody showdown follows.
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