A small town terrorised by outlaws hires gunman Henry Fonda as unofficial lawman but when the bodies start to mount up, local cowpoke Richard Widmark steps in as sheriff causing tensions for all concerned.
Essentially a variation on the OK Corral story, Fonda’s character is probably far closer to a true portrait of Wyatt Earp than his more romanticised counterparts. Although on the surface a black hat vs white hat generic western, it’s more of a series of varying shades of grey hats in the ring as each man has a shady past and ulterior agenda. Fonda is a man of violence that tries to play by the rules but has no illusions as to what his job entails; Doc Holliday style sidekick Anthony Quinn plays both sides of the fence off against each other but has very sketchy motives; Richard Widmark is initially torn between his inherent sense of right and wrong and loyalty to his friends but comes to realise the time for vigilante justice is over.
The larger theme for the story is the passing of the old west from lawlessness to order and despite the rather formulaic approach, some well written characters and quality leading men make for a cut above the usual horse opera.