A sheriff and his deputy wait at the station for the expected arrival of a brother with a bad reputation. Instead, an obvious hired gun arrives, about whom they worry, about whom they do... nothing. John Wayne, eldest and most formidable of the Elder brothers, comes in the back way and even attends his late mother's funeral at a safe distance. One of the most interesting aspects to this film is Wayne's character's repeated refusals to fall into ambush, to do the stupid thing.
Their parents are dead, the family impoverished, the scent of fish slowly rises as Wayne, particularly, but also Martin and a VERY strong cast of supporting actors gradually unspool the plot. A hired gun... an ambitious gunsmith and his son, even in his early days, Dennis Hopper did edgy and creepy with a master's abilities. Who ARE the good guys? The Director is honest enough to let the viewer go with his impulses to trust the Brothers--rightly, as it turns out.
George Kennedy makes a creepy, convincing heavy, one with a psychopath's utter lack of concern for legality and a sadist's delight in inflicting pain. There are few scenes to rival his gleeful torturing of an inoffensive undertaker interrupted when he looks up to receive Wayne's pick handle in his face. Seldom is a steaming dish of come-uppance so satisfactorily served.
The growing and utter hopelessness of the brothers' cause manifests itself with conviction. The villainy of the scheming antagonist grows more and more manifest until he murders his own son without any particular sign of remorse. There is an intensity here that rewards the careful watcher, there is a breadth to this film worth a bit of slow pacing in the second half.
On the whole, a convincingly superior effort.