Cast & Crew
When Tom Denton, a Fort Grant, Texas deputy, kills an outlaw, coroner Fairweather informs him that a lawman who shoots a man without family is liable for the expense of the funeral. As a poorly paid employee of the government, Tom has very little money to pay for the funeral and grows increasingly frustrated with his profession. Later that day, Tom's fiancée, telegraph operator Laura Brock, receives a wire from California stating that Tom's brother Matt has been accused of robbery and murder by police investigator Ed Larkin. Knowing that Larkin is an unjust man, Tom and his other brother Fred, also a deputy, decide to go to California to save Matt. Before he leaves, Tom promises Laura that they will marry upon his return, and she loans him money for the trip. Once they arrive in California, Tom and Fred hand Larkin a letter from district marshal Pete Coleman, which provides an alibi for Matt on the day of the murder. Just as Larkin suggests that Tom and Fred go to Sacramento to appeal to the state governor, a townsman asks Larkin if he plans to attend Matt's hanging. Now realizing that Sacramento was only a ruse to prevent them from stopping the hanging, Fred knocks Larkin out. Fred and Tom then rush to rescue their brother. When one of the men guarding Matt draws his gun to shoot, Fred is forced to shoot him first to save his brother. Matt later explains to his brothers that Larkin framed him for the murder. The brothers then buy Matt a horse, but the horse trader later tells Larkin that the men stole the horse. That night, on the trail, the brothers vow to stay together as a family to prevent further trouble. Meanwhile, Larkin lies about the extent of the Denton brothers' crimes and lists rustling, bank and stage robberies and murder in a telegraph message sent to all the area marshals. Laura receives a telegram specifically addressed to Pete, warning him that the Denton brothers are returning home, and offering a $5,000 reward for their capture. Along the trail, Tom telegraphs Laura that they are safe and makes a plan to meet her at a hideout outside Fort Grant. When they reach the hideout, Bill Devlin, an old friend who has become an outlaw, is waiting for them. Bill suggests that because the charges against the brothers will not be dropped, their only chance for survival is to actually commit the crimes they have been accused of in order to make money to escape the law. Later, Laura, unaware of Bill's suggestion, offhandedly mentions to Tom that new, inexperienced deputies will be guarding the local payroll shipment arriving by train that night. Despite their earlier reluctance to become criminals, the brothers, along with Bill, steal the payroll that evening. Tom meets Laura later to give her some of the money from the robbery. Laura is appalled that Tom has made her an accomplice to a robbery by using information she gave to him in confidence and ends the relationship. Tom, now alone and without any hope of returning to his old life, agrees with Bill and his brothers to continue to rob banks and trains throughout the country. As the reputation of the "Denton Gang" grows, a new reward for their capture is set at $40,000. Months later, Laura, unable to recover from Tom's betrayal, leaves Fort Grant. On Thanksgiving Day, the Denton Gang is returning to Fort Grant to steal large cattle sales proceeds, when Tom spots a wild turkey and shoots it. Tom later encounters Pete and his new deputies on the trail, calls for a truce and invites the lawmen to share the turkey. While they enjoy the meal, Tom tells Pete that they will quit after one more robbery, but Pete begs him to quit immediately. Once the gang leaves, Pete deduces that they have returned to steal the cattle sales shipment and makes his way back to Fort Grant to prepare the town for retaliation. On their way to Fort Grant, the gang stops to visit Ma Denton at the family homestead. Ma does not welcome her sons and informs Tom that Laura is dead. Tom, despondent from the news, coldly proceeds with the plans to rob both the express office and the bank. Once the gang arrives in Fort Grant, Bill and Fred hold up the bank, while Tom and Matt rob the express office. During the robberies, the townspeople, who are stationed at every window, shoot and wound Bill and Matt, then Matt, still desperate to kill the man who falsely accused him, finds Larkin. The two shoot and kill each other, after which Pete shoots and kills Tom and wounds Fred. As Pete helps the wounded Fred to a wagon, Fred comments that, "at least you won't have to bury us. We have money and relatives."
House Peters Jr.
Robert L. Lippert
The working titles for this film were The Daltons' Last Raid and Three Outlaws. The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: "The American Frontier, late in the last century, was a hotbed of violence. It took daring and desperate courage, for a frontiersman to survive-Whether he lived by breaking the law, or by enforcing it. This is the `true' story of three of these desperate men-`true' not because it happened exactly as portrayed, but because human nature is what it is . . . ." The closing onscreen credits differ in order from the opening credits.
As noted in a October 13, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, the actor billed onscreen as Ross Latimer had previously acted under the name Kim Spalding, but made a change for Three Desperate Men; Latimer was his real name and the name under which he appeared in the 1942 film The Shepherd of the Ozarks (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Following his appearance in Three Desperate Men, the actor resumed use of the name Kim Spalding.
According to a December 29, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was the first Lippert production in which actor Gary Cooper was to be a partner. Modern sources explain that Cooper had agreed to join Carl Foreman as a partner in Carl Foreman Productions, which would produce three films for Lippert Productions, but he later pulled out of the deal. Foreman claimed that after he testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and was subsequently blacklisted, he released Cooper from his commitment to the company to avoid any damage to Cooper's career.