There is something about singers who make nearly seamless transformations, moving from music to film. Julie London is one of them. The list is not particularly long, but very noteworthy. And her sultry, delicate voice is hard not to like, if maybe rare in a coarse, rustic, frontier setting. At first, she is paired together with Tony Sinclair (John Cassavetes). The film is really about him, sort of coming of age after having already made that passage. But his older brother, Steve (Robert Taylor), is more the screen luminary, whose presence cements the whole enterprise. It is his calling to steer Tony clear of mistakes he is all too prone to make, being, as he is, susceptible to the gunfighter allure.
That is what Steve used to be, and he lucks out when Tony shoots Larry Venables -- unfairly, possibly -- who comes to town to gun him down. Steve is no longer a gunman but a cattleman, working a picturesque valley that belongs mostly to old Deneen. Then Clay Ellison arrives from Pennsylvania to make a claim to much of the same land that once belonged to his father. Now, Tony, who has lost his gunslinging virginity, gets to taking big notions about himself, and how he might throw his weight around. He is set to marry Joan (Julie London), as well as succeed Steve as foreman, whom he perceives as having grown soft.
There is a noirish element to this film as Tony, against all odds as well as various standards and customs, thinks he can rule by virtue of a fast gun and a magical personality he cannot seem to ever master. His friends are basically drunks and he cannot win over workers who remain loyal to Steve, always the older brother. When Tony kills Clay Ellison, who has a legitimate grievance, Deneen orders the Sinclairs out of the valley. This is a true frontier tale. Decisions are reached based on the rectitude, or lack thereof, of the various individuals involved. Sadly, Tony cannot get any respect, despite two noches on a tricked-up gun, designed to get shots off fast.
Around the margins one encounters snow-capped mountains, green pastures, and tree-studded slopes. There is all the promise out west that F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Great Gatsby described with reference to the Northeast. Today's mind's eye sees trees and either envisions profits to be earned or nature to be preserved. But pioneers dreamt of cattle, ranches, families, and a better life than, for instance, in Joan's case, singing at night in a dingy saloon. After a certain point, it becomes clear that Tony has crossed a line from which he cannot return. It is that way in the movies, and sometimes in real life, too.