Saddle the Wind (1958)
Directed by Robert Parrish (who’d won an Oscar for editing Body and Soul (1947)) with a screenplay by the future multiple Emmy winner (and TV’s Twilight Zone creator) Rod Serling this slightly above average Western stars Robert Taylor as a reformed gunfighter come rancher whose kid brother wants to walk in his former footsteps. John Cassavetes plays the younger brother and Julie London plays the brother’s fiancée. Donald Crisp plays the landowner who owns most of the valley (like he’d done just 2 films prior in The Man From Laramie (1955)) and won’t tolerate needless violence in his town. Charles McGraw Royal Dano Douglas Spencer and Ray Teal (among others) also appear. The beautiful vistas (“purple mountains majesty”) are some of the film’s highlights.
Double S Ranch owner Steve Sinclair (Taylor) is surprised when his kid brother Tony (Cassavetes) returns from a cattle drive with Joan Blake (London) whom he says is his fiancée. Nacho Galindo uncredited plays the ranch cook. Tony who had been raised “to stand up for himself” by his older brother had grown into a fairly wild and unpredictable young man. Now Tony insists that he too is going to be a gunfighter in order to protect his older brother whom he’d seen out draw 5 men before he was twelve. Steve isn’t too happy about Joan; he says that the ranch is ready for a woman not yet anyway. He learns that Joan had chosen to come with Tony because he treated her with respect and as a bar singer who rarely gets it she’d taken notice. For the time being Steve decides to accept the situation. Joan sings to Tony who is then a bit too rough with her when he tries to kiss her. At dinner that night Tony encouraged their ranch foreman Hemp (Spencer) to make Joan feel welcome.
Meanwhile a drifter gunfighter named Larry Venables (McGraw) comes to town asking for Steve Sinclair. He treats bar employees Hank (Jay Adler uncredited) & Joe (Stanley Adams uncredited) badly making it clear that he’s a tough guy. Later when the Sinclairs come to town Tony pretends to out draw his friend Dallas (Richard Erdman) before he introduces Joan and the three of them go into the bar; Steve takes care of other business. Once inside the bar Tony learns that Venables has a beef with his older brother and decides to force a showdown. With the two men are facing one another Venables with his back to the door a noise outside distracts the gunfighter’s attention. He turns while drawing and is shot & killed by Tony. Steve rushes into the bar to discover what has happened. He scolds his younger brother and then says that Venables was the fastest gun he knew. Knowing that the town’s principle benefactor Dennis Deneen (Crisp) will not be happy about the incident he decides to go to the landowner’s ranch to explain. In the bar though Joan tries to get him to leave Tony starts drinking and soon thanks to Dallas is the center of attention buying drinks for the house.
When Steve arrives at Deneen’s home he’s greeted by his ranch’s foreman Brick (Teal). After telling Mr. Deneen what happened Steve is told to get a grip on his wild brother. However Deneen knows how difficult it is because his son was killed by a gunfighter at around Tony’s age when he’d tried to out draw someone. Since then Deneen hasn’t tolerated violence in his valley a third of which he’d allowed Steve to purchase when he was convinced that Steve was through with gun fighting. When Steve returns to town he finds Joan who’s had enough of the drunken celebrating. On horseback he escorts her towards home on horseback. But Joan’s still upset about the senseless killing so the two stop to discuss Tony’s upbringing. Soon they see smoke in the low ground area of the valley and ride to investigate it. Steve then meets Clay Ellison (Dano) who’s wearing a union soldier’s uniform. He learns that Ellison is not a squatter but that he actually owns the thin strip of land through the valley. However Steve encourages him to leave anyway before riding off with Joan himself.
As Dallas who’d fought for the South in the Civil War and Tony are making their way home they too see Ellison and his party (which includes his wife played by Irene Tedrow uncredited). They decide to have fun by disrupting the squatters’ camp which includes burning one of their wagons and tipping over everything else including Ellison. They are interrupted by Steve who has returned and quickly stops things scolds his brother and tells Dallas to leave and never return. Steve apologizes to Ellison and throws him a money bag to pay for the damages. Ellison is defiant and says that he won’t be intimidated into leaving that he plans to put up barbed wire fencing and settle on the strip. Later Ellison visits Deneen to insist that it’s his right to use his land as he pleases and gets Deneen’s reluctant support. Deneen then visits Steve’s ranch and communicates his wishes.
*** SPOILERS ***
The next day Ellison comes to down with Deneen and Steve in tow. However Tony is already there and refuses to let Ellison by the barbed wire he wants. When Ellison raises his rifle Tony shoots him. Incensed Deneen orders the wire himself and says that he’ll be putting up his own fences after he has Ellison’s installed. Later back at their ranch Steve and Tony have a falling out. Steve throws Tony off his land after telling him that he is giving up the ranching business himself after all that has happened. After thinking that he’ll take charge of things Tony is eventually forced to leave by his older brother. The next morning Tony rides up to Deneen and a gun battle results in both being injured. Steve learns what happened from Brick who’d ridden to his ranch and decides to go after his brother himself. Before he leaves he asks Joan to stay for him and it’s clear that she will because her respect for Steve has grown into love. As Steve finds and then approaches Tony his younger brother turns his own gun on himself to “protect” his older brother. Steve returns to tell Deneen the news who then convinces Steve to stay.