Cast: John Payne, Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea
SUMMARY: On the Fourth of July in the town of Silver Lode, Dan Ballard (John Payne) is about to marry Rose Evans (Lizabeth Scott), the daughter of wealthy rancher Zachary Evans. The entire town is set to celebrate both the wedding and the holiday, but are interrupted by the arrival of four men: Fred McCarty (Dan Duryea), Johnson, Kirk and Wicker. McCarty announces that he is a U.S. Marshal, and has come to arrest Dan for the murder of McCarty’s brother two years earlier, and the theft of $20,000. The wedding ceremony is interrupted, and Dan decides to clear up the issue before getting married. He claims that McCarty is not really a marshal, but rather a rustler and criminal who is seeking revenge. None of the townspeople believe that Dan could have committed such a crime, and they attempt to stop McCarty from arresting Dan and extraditing him to California. The sheriff is worried that McCarty will just try to kill Dan instead, so he forms a posse to protect Dan. McCarty and Dan visit Judge Cranston, who decides that the arrest warrant and extradition must be upheld. However, Dan does get him to agree to a two-hour grace period before leaving. Dan immediately goes to the telegraph office. He tries to send telegrams to officials in California to confirm McCarty’s real status, but it is discovered that the lines are cut; the telegraph operator has to leave to fix them. Dan then tries to bribe Johnson into turning on McCarty; the man eventually agrees to do so for a price of $5,000. Dan gets the money from his future father-in-law, Zachary and goes to meet Johnson in the livery stable. McCarty figures out what is going on, and sneaks into the building himself. Johnson tells Dan that McCarty isn’t a U.S. Marshal: he had the papers forged, killed the forger, and cut the telegraph wires. McCarty then shoots Johnson and confronts Dan. He admits to the crimes, and offers to spare Dan if he hands over the $20,000. Dan states that he won the money from McCarty’s brother fair and square, and that the other man drew first, which McCarty confirms.
The entire conversation is overheard by Sheriff Woolley, but McCarty gets the jump and kills the man, suffering a minor wound himself. When the townspeople rush in, McCarty claims that Dan (who has picked up both guns) shot Johnson and Woolley, and tried to kill him. By this time, most of the townspeople have turned on Dan, believing that he really did kill McCarty’s brother. The incident in the stable only confirms this belief, and virtually the only person left on Dan’s side is Rose. Dan makes a run for it, running into the telegraph operator on the way. The man has repaired the cables, but has also turned on Dan and decides not to send the messages. McCarty and the deputies, along with most of the townspeople, now spread out in search of Dan. During the pursuit, Dan kills the deputies, and wounds Rose’s brother Mitch. He takes refuge with ex-girlfriend/showgirl Dolly, who also believes his innocence before heading to the telegraph office to check on the messages. He is again pursued and shot at, and finally takes sanctuary in the church. The minister refuses to let McCarty in at first, and only yields when the townspeople force the issue. Meanwhile, Dolly and Rose have cornered the telegraph operator and blackmailed him into sending the telegrams. When an answer does not arrive, they force the man to fake exonerating messages, then deliver them to the judge at the church. While virtually everybody watches, Dan is chased into the belltower by McCarty. While they initially call for Dan to surrender, the telegraph messages abruptly quiet them. McCarty realizes that the game is up, and tries to shoot his way out. A bullet ricochets off the bell and kills him. Dan climbs down to apologies from the townspeople. He rejects them, noting that only minutes earlier the same people had been calling for his death, before taking Rose’s hand and leaving. Back at the telegraph office, the reply comes through. It is nearly identical to the faked messages, and Dolly triumphantly runs off to spread the news.
MY TAKE: This movie is similar to High Noon, in that one man has his wedding interrupted and has to take on a group of bad guys by himself. However, in that movie, Gary Cooper is the sheriff, and everybody knows that the bad guys are bad guys (they’re just too chicken to stand up to them). In this movie, everybody thinks that the bad guys are U.S. Marshals, and turn on Dan. It’s sad how fast this happens: they decide that the two years Dan has lived among them don’t vouch for his identity, and turn bloodthirsty. While I can understand this feeling on one hand, based on some famous serial killers, I have a hard time accepting the quick change in their attitudes. I wished that they would have at least given him a trial, or confirmed the warrant. That seems like it would be a fairly obvious thing to do, since it’s an out-of-state warrant. There were a number of infuriating instances in which McCarty’s real identity was close to being disclosed, only to have something happen: Johnson rats McCarty out, but is killed; the sheriff overhears everything, but is killed (and McCarty is not); the telegraph operator refuses to send the telegrams that could exonerate Dan, etc. It all serves to heighten the tension, but it’s frustrating. Then, when it turns out that Dan was telling the truth the whole time, the townspeople try to make nice and kiss up. Not surprisingly, Dan is not having it. I think I would have had an easier time with it if they had reserved judgment, deciding to stay neutral until all the facts were in. That they so quickly decided that he must be a murderer, because a stranger says he is, really bothered me and obviously him as well.
RATING: Pretty good; twist on the typical Western.