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A by-the-books sheriff courts disaster when he takes on a corrupt town boss.
Three months after drunken ranchhands employed by wealthy rancher Vincent Bronson shoot up the town of Bannock and accidentally kill an old man, Bannock's marshal, Jered Maddox, goes looking for the shooters. Arriving in the town of Sabbath with the body, Marc Corman, of one of the men involved in the shootout, Maddox pays a call on the town marshal, Cotton Ryan, an aging, once-great lawman. Maddox tells Ryan that he has learned the identities of the men involved in the shoot-up in Bannock, Vernon Adams, Choctaw Lee, Jack Dekker, Harvey Stenbaugh and Hurd Price, and demands they be turned over to him by the next day. Ryan explains the men work for Bronson, who owns the town, but Maddox reiterates his demand. Ryan then rides out to the Bronson ranch to inform him of Maddox's mission. Genuinely surprised about the death in Bannock, Bronson offers to make monetary reparations to the dead man's family, the town and to Maddox, but Ryan advises him that Maddox will not accept the proposal. Bronson's top hand, Stenbaugh, is eager to confront Maddox, but Bronson, whose conquests and riches have been defined by violence, is weary of death and forbids any action against Maddox until he hears the offer. Meanwhile back in Sabbath, Laura Selby, an old flame of Maddox's, comes to his hotel to plead for the life of her man, Price. Maddox says he can protect Price only if he turns himself in. Meanwhile, Bronson informs all the hands about Maddox and suggests that they turn themselves in. Adams refuses, claiming that his small farm would go under if he was away more than a week. Former gunfighter Choctaw bristles at the idea of surrendering and offers to join Stenbaugh and fight, while Price remains evasive. Promising to cover any losses the men incur if they turn themselves in, Bronson also decides to negotiate with Maddox about the men's situation. Cautioning his top hand not to start a conflict, Bronson sends Stenbaugh and young Crowe Wheelwright to town to learn about Maddox's movements. The next day, Stenbaugh visits Ryan and berates the marshal for having grown lax and cowardly. Spotting Maddox, Stenbaugh calls him out and, drawing first, is shot and killed by Maddox. Crowe debates drawing on Maddox, then reconsiders. Meanwhile, shopkeeper Luther Harris gathers a number of townsmen together to complain that Maddox is a stranger and a killer hiding behind his marshal's badge. Under his prodding, several men agree to arm themselves and confront Maddox. At the ranch, Bronson is deeply saddened to learn of Stenbaugh's death and tells his son Jason that he laments his friend's foolhardiness. Harris and the townsmen find Maddox finishing breakfast and confront him, but overwhelmed by his composure, the group breaks up. Maddox then goes in search of Ryan who is at the saloon, but is interrupted by Crowe who calls him out to the street. Once again, however, Crowe back down, but when Maddox turns his back, a shot rings out. Suspecting Crowe of having set him up, Maddox slaps him furiously, but Ryan tells him he saw the shot fired from a nearby building. Both marshals run into the brothel, where owner Lucas indicates the shots were fired from upstairs. The men find and capture the shooter, Dekker, and Ryan hustles him off to jail. Thanking Maddox for bringing him into the action, Ryan nevertheless asks Maddox to leave town before the violence spreads. Maddox explains that life has no meaning without the law and that he has a code of honor that prevents him from ever drawing on anyone first. The next day, as Maddox rides out of town to round up the rest of the men, Price prepares to flee, despite Laura's pleading. Meanwhile, Crowe has followed Maddox to swear that he was not involved with Dekker's attempt the night before. Maddox tells Crowe that killing is not a game and should not be done for pride, but confesses that a lawman is only a killer. Later, Adams joins Price to proceed to Bronson's, but on the way they come upon Maddox who is alone again. Fearful when Adams opens fire, Price flees. Maddox then captures and wounds the hot and exhausted Adams and takes him to Price's, where Laura informs him that Price has gone to Bronson's for protection. Maddox helps Laura treat Adams, but then handcuffs him outside. As Stenbaugh is buried at Bronson's ranch, the older man laments the need for continual violence. Over dinner, Laura and Maddox discuss their past, but she is dismayed that most of the people they knew are dead. When Laura takes food out to Adams, he implores her to help him escape but she refuses to give him a pistol until he promises not to attack Maddox. Maddox discovers them and Laura beseeches him to give up the behavior that has made him hard and ruthless. Maddox rationalizes that if the law is bent or broken, life is meaningless, but Laura scoffs at his "code." Later, when Maddox is about to leave the house to sleep outside, Laura confesses she still cares for him and they spend the night together. Maddox asks Laura to come away with him and she in turn asks him to give up his job as marshal. The next morning, Laura hears Maddox taking Adams away and follows them. In town, Lucas wakens Ryan to warn him that Harris has stirred the townspeople up again. Maddox rides in with Adams and turns him over to Ryan, then startles the marshal by declaring that he is leaving to try and start a new life. When the men hear Bronson and his men in the streets, Ryan withdraws, but Lucas, a longtime associate of Maddox, agrees to help. In the street, Bronson and his men are taken aback when Maddox begins riding out of town. Frustrated, Harris aims to shoot Maddox in the back but Lucas fires a shot into his legs. Choctaw uses the diversion to fire upon Maddox, but is killed. Maddox tells Bronson that "it is all over," but when Jason insists on confronting him, Maddox kills him. Horrified, Price runs away and just as he reaches Laura, Maddox shoots him in the back. Stunned by his son's death, Bronson commits suicide as a stony-faced Maddox rides out of town.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||GP||Premiere Info:||London opening: 18 Mar 1971; New York opening: 4 Aug 1971|
|Release Date:||1971||Production Date:||
A Michael Winner Film
AFI-DVD*; EB; Netflix
|Color/B&W:||Color (Technicolor)||Distributions Co:||United Artists Corp.|
|Sound:||Mono||Production Co:||Scimitar Films Ltd.|
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