powered by AFI
Walter Buckman owns a successful cattle ranch in Montana, where cowboys Ross Bodine and Frank Post work. When a horse goes wild and tramples its rider, Ross and Frank are directed to bring the body into town, and along the way they discuss the uncertainties of life and their fear of dying with nothing to their name. After Ross, who is fifty years old, mentions his plan to settle down in Mexico, the young Frank jokingly suggests they rob a bank in order to finance a ranch there. At the saloon in town, after drinking to the dead man, the two cowboys start an altercation with their rivals, sheep rancher Hansen and his men. The fistfight is finally ended when the bartender, Dave, knocks out Ross and Frank, after which the other customers deposit the cowboys in their wagon and point the horses back to the ranch. The next morning, Walt informs them that they owe Dave the costs to rebuild the saloon, which will come out of their monthly pay. Walt then visits Hansen in the town jail, declaring that if one more sheep grazes on Buckman land, he will kill Hansen. After locating the sheriff, Bill Jackson, in Maybell Tucker's brothel, Walt instructs him to release Hansen, noting "If there's a war, let's get it over with." Meanwhile, Frank convinces Ross to rob the bank that night, and when Walt's sons Paul and John see the men riding toward town, they decide to follow them after dinner, assuming they are visiting Maybell's newest girl. At dinner, John mentions Maybell, spurring Walt to berate him for disrespecting their mother Nell and later to rebuke Nell for being too soft on her boys. Meanwhile, Ross and Frank have entered the home of banker Joe Billings, and while Ross brings him to town on Frank's horse to open the bank, Frank stays to guard his wife Sada and her mother. Despite Frank's childlike delight in the Billings' dog and her pups, Sada condemns him. In town, Ross ties the horses up outside Maybell's, then sends Joe to the bank while he waits at the saloon. When Joe does not return quickly, Ross goes to the bank, where Joe waits for him with his gun drawn. Unflappable, Ross notes that Frank is sure to kill Sada if he does not return, and Joe reluctantly puts the gun down. Meanwhile, Paul and John have reached town and, spotting Ross and Frank's horses outside Maybell's, search the brothel for their employees, but Maybell asserts that she has not seen them. Outside, they see Ross and Joe leaving and question them, and when Ross swears that Frank is at Maybell's, a furious John returns to the brothel and shoots his gun into the air, demanding to know why she has lied. In the ensuing melee, Ross and Joe slip back to the Billingses', where they find Frank outside shooting at a cougar. The animal attacks, killing one of the horses and the dog, before Ross is able to shoot it. As Sada, weeping, collects the puppies, the other horse flees, so Ross takes the Billingses' only horse and shows an exultant Frank their $36,000 payload. Before leaving, however, Ross leaves $3,000 with Joe and Sada to cover the Buckman ranchhands' pay. Although Joe tries to hand it back, Ross insists he keep it. After the cowboys ride off, Sada coldly informs Joe that they will keep the money without mentioning it to the sheriff. Ross and Frank head toward Mexico, planning to stop at the nearest way station to buy a mule. When they stop to rest, Ross notices that Frank is holding one of the unweaned puppies in his jacket. Meanwhile, Ross's horse returns to the ranch, prompting Walt to ride into town, where he finds Joe and the sheriff discussing the robbery. Although Bill believes Ross and Frank are already too far away to pursue, Walt directs his sons to join the posse and track the men down, declaring that no employees of his will ever again break the law. The next morning, Ross and Frank arrive at the ranch of Ben, an old acquaintance of Ross's who sells mules. Frank demands milk for his pup, and when Ben offers his cat, who has new kittens, Frank is shocked to see the cat suckle the dog. Ben demands the dog in payment for the mule, and although Frank is reluctant to relinquish his pet, Ross urges him to agree. Soon after, the posse loses the trail and turns back, but John persists, with Paul unenthusiastically accompanying him. Some time later, Ross spots a herd of wild broncos and insists on catching one, despite Frank's warning that they are in a hurry. With great skill, Ross manages to catch a horse and break it, and as Frank watches, he dances with glee in the snow. They soon reach the nearest town, Benson, where Ross wins the draw to see who will enter the town to buy supplies, but soon relents and invites the sulking Frank to join him. They luxuriate in a bath and purchase women's favors and supplies, and while Frank decides to play a game of poker, Ross relaxes with a friendly prostitute. Frank is winning a heated game when his arrogance frustrates a rival player, who pulls out a pistol and shoots him in the leg. Hearing the answering shots, Ross rushes to the saloon and helps Frank shoot his way out. Unwilling to risk seeing a doctor, Frank asserts that they must leave town. Meanwhile, Walt spots Hansen's sheep on his land and approaches the rancher and his men, guns drawn. In the ensuing shootout, both Walt and Hansen are killed. When John and Paul reach Tucson, the sheriff there, notified of the shootout by Bill, informs them of their father's death, which strengthens John's resolve to carry out Walt's last demand. At camp that night, Ross digs the bullet out of Frank's leg, causing the younger man to pass out. The next day, the Tucson sheriff counsels the brothers to turn back, but John, feeling increasingly ill, refuses. Paul tells the sheriff that he does not agree with his brother but hopes to keep him alive. By the following night Frank's wound has become infected, but when Ross suggests they return to Benson, Frank wagers that they will come across a closer town. Ross tries to cauterize the wound, but the infection rages, and soon Frank is so weak Ross must convey him on a stretcher behind the horse. Frank asks Ross to tell him more about Mexico, so Ross spins a tale about the beauty and bounty that await them. The next day, Ross informs Frank that he considered him clownish at first, but soon grew to love him and respect him as a fine cowboy. By the end of his speech, he tenderly covers Frank's already dead body with a blanket. Ross continues on alone, but is soon spotted by Paul and John. Paul shoots Ross's horse, and when the cowboy drops to the ground, John shoots him. Disgusted, Paul approaches Ross and apologizes, then rides off alone and John, barely able to breathe, attempts to collect Ross's dead body as his prize.