The Naked Spur
A bounty hunter is joined by an old prospector and an army veteran in the mountains to try to bring in a wanted murderer and his girl-friend.
In 1868 Howard Kemp (James Stewart) holds a gun on Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell) and searches his campsite. Howard says he is going after the wanted criminal, Ben Vandergroat, and he offers Jesse $20 to be his guide. On a mountain trail a rock slide narrowly misses them. Howard sees a hat and shoots at it. More rocks cause them to pull back. Howard stops the rider Lt. Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) and questions him, learning he was dishonorably discharged. Howard and Roy use a rope to climb up the steep rocks. Roy captures Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan). Lina Patch (Janet Leigh) sneaks up behind Roy, and then he and Ben fight. Howard arrives with a gun and captures them. Howard pays off Jesse. Ben tells Jesse and Roy that Howard is not a sheriff but is after the $5,000 reward. They want a share. Lina pleads for her sick horse, but Howard kills it.
Ben has his hands tied and rides Jesse’s jackass while the others ride horses. They stop at a creek, and Roy likes wrestling with Lina. An Indian sees them and rides off. While they are eating, Ben talks about women and the bachelors. Ben irritates Howard. Jesse suggests they could go over the mountain to save a day. Ben tells Lina that Howard may want her. Jesse gets out field glasses, and they see Blackfeet. Roy says the Blackfeet are after him. Howard tells Roy to go ahead, and he gallops off. Several Indians catch up to the four. They all continue, but Roy is hiding and shoots the chief, starting a battle. They kill five Indians, and the rest flee. Jesse blames Roy, who says it worked. Howard is wounded in the leg. After a while he falls off his horse, and they camp. Later Howard wakes up delirious and talks to Mary about leaving for the war. Ben says he turned his ranch over to her, and she sold it.
Jesse says he has been searching for gold his entire life. Howard wakes up, and Lina changes his bandage. Lina denies she is Ben’s girl. Howard says Ben is mean, and she defends him. Roy rides up and shows Howard a map he made, but Howard refuses to stay behind. Ben tampers with Howard’s saddle. On a ridge Ben causes Howard to fall off his saddle, but Howard climbs back up. At night Howard nearly falls asleep on watch, but Jesse wakes up to replace him.
The next day it rains, and they find a cave. Ben asks Lina, and she rubs his back. He whispers he could escape if she keeps Howard up late. He says if she doesn’t, he may kill him; so she agrees. While Jesse and Roy are asleep, she talks with Howard. He asks her what she plans to do. She says she would like to go to California. He says he wants to buy his ranch back and asks if she would join him. He embraces her. Ben is trying to crawl out the hole, but Howard pulls him back. Howard has Ben cut loose so they can fight. Howard tells Ben to draw, but Ben refuses. Roy wants Ben killed, but Jesse protects him. Howard realizes that Lina was helping Ben escape.
They come to a rapid river, and Roy puts a rope around Ben’s neck. Howard and Roy get into a fight, and Roy pulls out a gun; but Howard manages to knock out Roy. Jesse asks Ben where his gold is, but Ben wants to show him. Jesse says he would trade Ben his freedom for all the gold. That night Jesse rouses Ben, who wakes up Lina. The three travel by the river. Ben pushes Lina off the horse and gets Jesse’s rifle. Ben kills Jesse and prepares to ambush Howard and Roy. Lina is angry at Ben and pleads for him not to kill the others. Howard and Roy arrive and find Jesse. Lina pushes Ben’s rifle up, and his shot misses. Howard and Roy take cover for the shoot-out. Howard climbs up the rocks. Ben shouts that Lina is bleeding and asks for a truce. Howard throws a dart into Ben’s neck, and Roy shoots Ben, who falls into the river. Howard finds that Lina is all right. Roy throws a rope across the river, ties it, and goes across to get Ben’s body. Roy ties the rope around Ben, but he is hit by a large log and drowns. Howard pulls the rope, but Lina says to cut him loose. Howard says he only cares about the money and ties the body on his horse. Lina says she will marry Howard, and he asks her why and cries. He takes the body off the horse and starts digging a grave. He asks her if she still wants to try California.
In this western a murderer tries to use greed and mistrust to create conflicts between his three captors. Five Indians and three main characters are killed, leaving only a couple to live happily if they can forget their ordeal.