This was the first movie in what has come to be called the Ranown Cycle.
The movie starts on a dark night, with lightning flashing in the background. Ben Stride approaches two men around a camp fire on the rainy night. They talk about a killing in Silver Springs. Gun shots off screen tell us there will only be five men left as we see Ben Stride rides off.
Ben runs into John and Annie Greer, a couple whose wagon it stuck in the mud. In a sub plot that is repeated throughout the series, John is a weak man with a woman who is too good for him, but she seems to make a good match with our hero, Ben.
Like in all the Ranown movies Ben is a man of few words. He often agrees with the speaker by saying things like "It seems that way", but doesn't really tell you what he is thinking. He is an independent man and doesn't seems to fell that he should be giving other people advice - they should be able to make up their minds for themselves.
When a cavalry office tells the Greers they should probably head back because of roving bands of Chiricahuas, Ben gives them directions on which way they should go, but John Greer says that they are not heading back. You can tell Ben is not happy with Greer's decision to put his wife at risk but he doesn't say anything to him. As Annie looks back at him he just says to his horse: "Come on boy, can't let them go on alone." Ben puts himself at risk, because of the decision of the weak man and because of the woman that he is with.
Ben and the Greers then meet up with Bill Masters (Lee Marvin), a man he had put into jail when he was a sheriff, and his partner Clete. In another often repeated sub-plot in the series, the outlaw Masters admires our hero, and our hero seems to like the outlaw figure too. Within two minutes of meeting Ben says : "I'd hate to have to kill you" and Masters responds : "I'd hate to have you try."
We find out from Masters that Stride was sheriff of Silver Springs and his wife was killed in a hold up involving seven men. When Annie tries to talk to Stride about it he says: "You're right Mrs. Greer. It's none of your business and it won't make it any easier." Stride does tell Mrs. Greer that his wife was working that night because his pride wouldn't let him take a job as a deputy after he lost the election for sheriff.
Masters tells Stride that he is following along because he is interested in the $20,000 from the hold up. And if Stride takes care of the rest of the men, like he did the first two, then the only thing that stands between Masters and the money is Stride. When Apaches attack it is Stride and Masters who ride out to face them and drive them off.
Masters then saves Stride's life when a stranger, who he has just saved from the Apaches, was set to shoot him in the back. Masters is falling for Annie and he just about tells her so in front of her husband and Stride. The husband doesn't have much to say, so Stride has to take up for him. he ends up punching Masters and telling him to move on.
Stride then tracks down the other guilty men to a little town. As Stride is about to ride off, he and Annie come very close to kissing but pull back at the last second.
| As you can see in the picture above, Stride is right where most of the protagonists of Ranown end up -|
in the middle between the weak man and his stronger wife.
Stride shoots is out with the four remaining men he is after. He is wounded and John Greer and Annie nurse him back to health. John Greer wants to bring him in to town, but Anne says he will be shot down. Greer tells Annie that he is carrying the money for the robbers in to town and must bring it in. A recovered Stride takes the money and waits for outlaws to come because he now has the money.
John Greer tries to redeem himself at the end by going in to town to try to get a sheriff to help Stride but dies for his trouble, shot in the back. Masters says: "I was wrong Clete, he wasn't half a man."
The outlaws come out for Stride and the money. After Stride finishes off the four remaining men he was after and finishes off Master's partner Clete too. There is the final showdown has the two "friends", Masters and Stride up against each other. Masters wants the money, and Stride is going to do what is right. "Sure is a shame you and me have to face it out this way", Masters says. In the gunfight Masters goes down.
After inviting Annie to visit, Stride returns to Silver City to take the deputy job.