As others have said, this is an entertainingly complex and action-packed western. While it includes many of the cliché features of western of this era, it also includes some unusual features. In addition to the boyishly handsome Audie Murphy, we have two gorgeous gals who often are included in scenes, in Susan Cabot and Faith Domergue(pronounced Dah mure). My only complaint is that they look too much alike. The occasional reviewer gets them mixed up. It doesn't help that my DVD jacket shows Faith and Audie, technically the leads, together, whereas actually it's Susan's character(Dusty) that Audie falls for. Dusty is your stereotypical Cinderella 'low maintenance' 'good girl': pretty and undemanding, but poor, plainly dressed, and otherwise undistinguished. She's right for young Luke(Audie), but initially pines for the much older, familiar, marshal('Lightning'), who considers her too young as a potential mate. Faith, as Opal(Brown Eyes to Lightning), is your stereotypical 'bad girl': high maintenance, with an extensive collection of fancy outfits and jewelry, supported by criminal activities of one of her admirers(Rod), which she occasionally aids(like strangling a dying victim while claiming to have nurse training!) In addition to her 'brother' Rod, who is actually her partner in buying stolen mine claims, she finds a new 'boy toy' in the irreverent young show off 'Johnny Sombrero' as well as the unsuspecting marshal, to whom she serves as bait to lure him where he can be easily dispatched or reveal important info. She's marked for eventual downfall when 'Lightening' finally discovers her complicity in the recent claim jumping racket, and she feels compelled to tentatively switch sides to save her skin. she suffers the fate of Ruth Roman ,in "The Far Country", who was in a rather similar situation, romancing both the villain and hero.
Meanwhile, we have complicated relationships between Lightening, Johnny Sombrero, and Audie, who reinvents himself as 'The Silver Kid', in a distinctive outfit, after being a victim of the jumper gang. Lightening suspects Johnny is behind some of the recent killings, but can't prove it. He hires the equally flashy and irreverent Silver Kid as his deputy to help protect him, his right hand being suboptimal in function from a shoulder slug. Lightening is forced to engage Johnny in a classic 'high noon' showdown. But the Silver Kid interrupts the proceedings by shooting Lightening in the trigger hand(knowing its suboptimal functionality), then taking his place. That's the second time he's saved Lightening from a potential bullet. Johnny's dying words provide a key clue to Lightening implicating Opal's involvement in the jumper gang.
During the finale shootout at Silver Creek, between the gang and a large posse, Audie does his most impressive stunt. His only thought is to rescue the bound and gagged Dusty, whom he surmises is stashed in the cabin as a hostage. He makes a running dive through the glass window, and does a triple roll, before shooting the surprised guard. Between these two stunts, the relationship between Lightening and the Silver Kid sometimes deteriorates, as the Kid keeps trying to interfere in Lightening's relationship with Opal, whom he doesn't like, later to be vindicated.
Although Audie is first billed, and winds up with the remaining featured girl, clearly, Stephen McNally, as Lightening, is otherwise the lead male. With Audie as his young sidekick, it's Lightening who performs the obligatory finale horse chase and shootout with the fleeing prime villain. Apparently , it was felt that Audie simply looked too small and young to make a convincing leading man in these types of westerns.
As previously pointed out, the central plot of a gang who make prospectors sign over their claims, then usually shoot them, doesn't seem to make practical sense when they want to remain anonymous. To make money, they would have to work the mine or hire someone to do so, or sell the doctored claim paper to some new prospector, all of which provide means of identifying them, unless they use pseudonyms, with an intermediate claim clearance buyer(Rod), which presumably is what they did.
Susan Cabot would again be featured as Audie's love interest in the subsequent western "Ride Clear of Diablo", where Audie again becomes a deputy. Despite her lack of exotic looks, she was perhaps more often cast as in Indian maiden or other exotic. She was disappointed in the shallow roles Universal gave her.
The somewhat older Faith was initially featured in films thanks to the infatuation of Howard Hughes. But, he finally gave up on her after several films failed to make a splash. I thought she was charismatic in this film.
Stephen McNally never made it big as an actor, lacking a distinctive look or personality. He often played villains or supporting roles. I thought he did a good job here.
Presently, part of a 4 '50s westerns collection on DVD, with one film each starring Randolph Scott, Jeff Chandler and Alan Ladd
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