Directed by Howard Hawks, an aging sheriff arrests a murderer in a saloon and has to hold him in jail against men hired by the prisoner’s brother. The sheriff is supported by two deputies and a young gun-slinger while starting a romance with a beautiful gambler.
At night Dude (Dean Martin) comes into a crowded saloon. At the bar Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) pours himself a drink from a bottle. He sees Dude and throws a dollar coin in the spittoon. Dude kneels down to get it, but Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) kicks it away. Dude grabs a club and comes up behind Chance and knocks him out with it. Joe laughs, and two men grab Dude and hold him as Joe hits him. Another man grabs Joe’s arm to stop him, and Joe turns and shoots him dead. Joe smiles and walks out.
Joe walks on the street and goes into another saloon and takes a drink. Chance comes in with his rifle and tells Joe he is under arrest. A man behind Chance pulls a gun on him, and Joe asks the sheriff what he is going to do now. Dude comes in and takes a gun from a man’s holster and shoots the gun out of the man’s hand and holds his gun on others, telling Chance he can do whatever he wants. Chance hits Joe with his rifle, and he and Dude drag his body out.
The next day Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond) arrives in town on a horse at the head of wagons. Dude stands before him and tells him to halt. Dude has a deputy badge and admits that his Spanish name he is called means a “drunk.” Wheeler tells his men to go on. Dude gets on his horse and goes. Sheriff Chance comes over, and Wheeler asks what he is to do. Wheeler tells him about Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson) who says he is riding guard. Wheeler says the kid is faster than this father. Chance wants his guns, and Colorado says he will give them up because Stumpy (Walter Brennan) is holding a rifle on him from the door of the sheriff’s office. Wheeler says he has a load of dynamite, and Dude suggests a place to put it. Colorado checks with Wheeler that that is what he wants. Wheeler asks Chance what is going on. Chance says they have Joe Burdette in jail for murder. Wheeler asks what his brother Nathan Burdette is doing, and Chance says he has the town bottled up. Wheeler asks who is helping him. Chance says he has only Dude and Stumpy. Wheeler says he has only a drunk and an old man. Wheeler says he will see him later and rides off. Dude rides up and tells Chance he will watch the road after he gets a beer.
Chance goes in and tells Stumpy to stay out of sight. Stumpy says he could have been gunned down. Chance tells him to stay in the cage when he is alone there. Stumpy says the windows are closed. Stumpy talks to Joe and says he fixed up his wounds. Joe tells him to shut up. Joe calls to Dude and says he would rather listen to a drunk. Joe says he has another dollar, and Dude throws his bottle of beer at Joe in the cell. Chance offers Dude another beer, but he says no.
A man arrives with a package, and Chance comes out to get it. Dude says the men are still standing around, but Chance says the jail could not hold all of them.
Chance delivers the package to Carlos Robante (Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez) who fends off an interruption by his wife Consuela Robante (Estelita Rodriguez). Carlos tells Chance that he does not know women, but Carlos says he does. He opens the package and shows red underwear for a woman. Feathers (Angie Dickinson) appears in the doorway and asks for a towel for a bath. Carlos says the stage needs fixing. Chance leaves, and she says he forgot his pants.
At night Dude is sitting and shaking in misery. Chance sees him hit his leg, and Stumpy comes out and asks if they will try something tonight. Chance says he does not know what Nathan Burdette will do. Dude says he wishes they would hurry and do it. Stumpy offers Dude a beer, and he says he is full of beer; but it does no good. Chance tells Stumpy that they are going on a turn around the town. Stumpy tells them to holler when they come back so that he won’t blast them.
Outside Dude asks Chance why they are going out at night. Chance says he usually does and could not take just waiting in there. They walk on opposite sides of the street. Chance stands behind a man until he walks away. Chance carries his rifle. They see a man on top of stairs who says he is just getting some air. Chance sees a barn door open and sees a mule. Chance says he is getting jumpy. Carlos tells Chance that Wheeler has been asking people to help him, but Carlos says it is dangerous.
They go into the saloon. Chance walks over to a poker game and asks Wheeler to talk to him. Chance tells him he is talking too much because anyone siding with him will be in trouble. Wheeler suggests he could get more deputies. Chance asks what good they would do, but it would give them more targets to shoot at. Dude is insulted by Wheeler and says he will go outside. Wheeler is used to seeing Dude drunk, but Chance says he was his deputy years ago and was the best man with a gun he ever had. Chance says Dude got hooked by a woman and came back six months later without her. Then they started calling him a drunkard. Chance says he has been taking care of him. Wheeler asks if he can help; but Chance says no and asks why he hired Colorado. Wheeler says he would be good and goes to ask him. Chance examines a pack of cards. Wheeler tells Colorado the sheriff could use a good man. Colorado says he is better at minding his own business and goes back to the poker game. Chance says he showed good sense. He thanks Wheeler for trying. Feathers leaves the poker game and takes her winnings. Chance tells Dude he will be back later. He follows her upstairs to her room and tells her she is in trouble. They go in her room, and he says they were using a deck with three aces missing. He says he knows everyone in the game except her and the man in the checkered vest. He shows her a wanted poster for a gambler who has a girl with him who wears feathers. He says she could be the girl, and she admits that she is. He tells her to take the stage in the morning, and he asks her for the money she won so that he can give it back to the losers. She says he has to prove that she has those cards and can only do that by searching her. She asks him where he will begin. He gets angry, and she says he is embarrassed. Colorado appears in the doorway and says she does not have the cards. He thinks the guy in the vest has them. He promised he would not start anything without telling him. The three go downstairs to the game. Colorado tells them to keep their hands on the table. A man tries to pull out a gun, but Colorado draws so fast that the man stops. Colorado finds the man has the aces. He tells the man to leave the money on the table and go. Chance apologizes to Feathers. She asks what she should have done. She wants to know what to do about that wanted handbill. He says she could stop playing cards, but she does not want to do that. Chance goes out.
Outside he asks Dude if he saw Wheeler. They see Wheeler walking in the street, and a man shoots him dead. They drag his body out of the street, and Chance says they shot him in the back. Chance is sorry to lose his friend. Colorado says he wants to go with them, and Chance tells him they don’t need him. He should have protected him earlier. Chance and Dude plan to go into the stables. Chance runs in first and takes a position but sees no one. He throws a pole, and Dude asks if he is all right. A man runs out, and Dude shoots at him twice. Chance says he got dirt in his eyes. Dude says he might have winged him. Dude says he went into Burdette’s saloon and is in there because he can see both doors. Chance asks if they are going in after him. Dude asks if he can go in the front door this time, and Chance agrees to go in the back. Dude says he may be good enough. Chance tells Dude when he is ready in back by a whistle.
Dude goes in the saloon, and Chance enters from the back door. Dude tells the bartender to pick up a shotgun by the barrel. Dude has the men group together, and he orders them to stand up and unbuckle their guns one at a time. Dude tells the bartender not to move. Dude says they are looking for the man who ran in there with muddy boots. He tells them to show their feet. The bartender tries to get Dude to drink. A man tosses a coin in the spittoon, and they laugh. Dude sees blood dropping into the beer and asks for a drink. Then he turns and shoots the wounded man above the bar. Dude confirms that he stepped in a puddle. He finds a $50 gold piece and says that is what Burdette must be paying his men. A man says no one paid him, and Chance hits him with his rifle. Chance tells them to get out of town. Chance says they should tell Burdette to pay his men more because they will earn it. Dude tells the man who threw the silver dollar to get it back. He kneels down by the spittoon. Chance tells the bartender Charlie that he is carrying the guns for them. Chance tells Dude he will let him in the front door from now on.
Stumpy asks Dude what happened, and Chance says Dude got him. Stumpy says Wheeler was wrong about Dude. Chance says he surprised them because they were laughing at him. Stumpy and Dude say Chance is a stinker. They let Colorado in, and he thanks Dude for getting the man who shot Wheeler. He puts down Wheeler’s guns and things. Colorado says he took the $60 he owed him. Chance asks about the others, and Colorado gives him the money which he will distribute later. Chance offers them eating money if they need it, and Colorado leaves. Chance says Colorado is good and does not feel he has to prove it.
Chance goes into the saloon and talks with Feathers. She says she is sorry; she did not know he was in trouble. Chance says Wheeler was shot because he was his friend. She asks how a man gets to be a sheriff, and he says he got tired of selling his gun in different places. He asks how she got on a handbill. She says she got married, but he cheated so that he could buy her things. She says he was shot. He says she had a rough time, but she says she had a good time. She did not know he was cheating until he was caught about four months ago. She has been working to get stage fare. Carlos comes in and tells Chance he will sleep well because he will watch. Chance tells him not to do that, and he will sleep in the jail. Chance says he will put a chair against his door. Carlos tells him to have a good sleep. He asks where she is going, and she says she wants to go where there are none of those handbills. Chance says he knows the sheriff who sent them out, and he says he will write him a letter to call them in. He goes upstairs, and she says thanks.
At dawn Chance is dressed and leaves his room. He asks Carlos why he did not wake him up. Carlos says the girl was sitting outside his room in a chair, and she told him not to wake him up. Chance goes up and knocks on her door. He finds her in bed and asks if she got a good night’s sleep. She says Carlos talked, and she was all right in the hall. She knows he does not want anyone to help him. She takes the blame for not waking him up. She says he is mad, and she is tired. He says she can’t go to bed now because the stage leaves in an hour. She tells him to get out so that she can take a bath. He says she is doing the talking. He says goodbye and goes out.
Carlos asks Chance if he told her that she is a fool. Chance tells Carlos to make sure that she gets on the stage; he will hold him responsible. Outside Carlos says Dude said to tell him he is out of town. Chance sees a lot of people, and Carlos says they came to see what will happen.
Dude is telling men coming into town to put their guns on the corral. Nathan Burdette (John Russell) leads several men, and Dude says he has orders to have them give up their guns. Dude tells Nathan he will be dead first. Harris tries to draw, and Dude shoots his reins which causes the horse to buck. Nathan orders his men to put up their guns. Nathan tells Dude he is good with his gun when he is sober. Dude says he is getting sober because of his brother. Nathan says Dude is enjoying himself. He says every man should have a little taste of power. They ride into town.
Chance tells Stumpy that Burdette and his men are coming in. They stop by Chance, and Nathan asks to see his brother. Chance tells the others to go across the street. Nathan asks why so many people are in town. Chance says they want to see what he is going to do, and he knows he does not like so many witnesses. Chance says he is coming in and tells Stumpy to open the cell block. Nathan talks to his brother Joe who says Chance gave him the going over. Chance says it was murder because the man who got shot had no gun. Chance says Nathan is rich and can pay people to do what he wants them to do. He is trying to save his brother who is no good. Chance says he does not like his men in the town and his friend getting killed. Burdette asks what he is going to do. Chance says he is going to wait for the US Marshal to arrive in six days. Joe says Chance is alone except for a barfly and a cripple. Chance says that if there is any trouble in the jail, Joe is going to be accidentally shot. Stumpy says he will guarantee that. Nathan says a court might call it murder. Chance says they will all be dead by then. Chance says Joe has no friends unless someone buys them. Nathan leaves, and Stumpy notes that he didn’t have much to say. Chance did not want to throw him in with Joe. Stumpy tells Joe he does not like being called a cripple and will be fixing his supper. Carlos comes in with a black eye, and he says Chance told him to put the girl on the stage. Consuela gave him the eye. Carlos describes how he made her get on the stage. He was carrying her, and Consuelo gave him the black eye. He says the girl refused to go on the stage. He asks him what “responsible” means.
Chance goes to Feathers’ room. She heard herself saying she was not going. She asks his name and says the T is for trouble. She asks him not to ask why she stayed. She says he does not owe her. She will know when it is time to go and asks if that is fair. He says nothing, and she asks him to say something. He says he is in a mess, and that makes things different. She kisses him, and on the second one he kisses her back. She says it is better when two people do it. She tells him to run along and do his job. He goes out.
In a saloon Nathan puts his drink down and talks to the Mexican musicians. A trumpeter starts playing. Colorado is watching and sees Nathan leave with some men.
At sunset Chance comes outside and sees Dude come back. Chance lights a lamp and asks what tune they are playing. Dude says it is a Mexican song. Colorado asks what Nathan said. He says Nathan told them to play the song “De Guello” all the time. He says it was played by the Mexicans outside the Alamo day and night until it was over. Chance says it means no quarter for the losers.
In the jail Stumpy plays harmonica, and Chance says they don’t need help with that tune. Dude says the stage left. Dude asks Chance if he told the girl she could stay, and Chance says he did. Dude remembered another girl who came, and Chance said she was no good. Dude says he must be an expert, and he hopes he will have better luck than he had. Stumpy says they need to get sugar and things. He tells Chance to give Dude his own guns. Chance says he bought them from the man Dude sold them to. Chance says they should take a turn around the town.
Dude puts on his guns, and Chance carries his rifle. Dude asks if he is drawing pay and says he can take some out for the guns. Chance says he has his things for him at the hotel. He advises him to get a bath and a shave.
The next day Feathers is shaving Dude while Chance watches. Chance says he does his own shaving. Dude has a silver band on his hat and says it could buy a lot of drinks. He puts it in a drawer. Feathers says Carlos is giving her a job. She asks to talk to John, and Dude leaves. Chance asks about her job, and she will be tending bar. She says she won’t do it and asks why he is getting mad. He says she would make anyone mad. She says she will take the job. He wants to know what she was going to ask, but she says he is not in a good mood. He asks again, and she asks where he is sleeping. She invites him to sleep in her room when he is in better humor. They hear a shot, and Chance runs into the street.
Dude says someone shot at him, and it turns out it was Stumpy who says he did not say anything. He did not know it was him; he should have hollered. Dude says it was his fault and tells him to stop talking. Dude tells him to shut up and says he has had it. Chance asks Dude if he is getting touchy. Chance says Stumpy is scared because he nearly killed him. Chance says they have pampered Dude too much. Stumpy says he did not do it on purpose. Stumpy says it was not his fault. Stumpy says he will fix the door.
Chance comes into the saloon and finds Feathers behind the bar drying glasses, but no one else is there. She offers him a drink, and he accepts. She asks if that is all he can do for her. He says she said he could think about it. She says she will leave her door open and tells him to get some good sleep. He says she is not helping him. He goes in his room and looks in her room.
Later Feathers is sleeping in a chair downstairs in a blanket. Chance comes down, picks her up, and carries her upstairs.
The next day Dude is having trouble roll a cigarette because his hands are shaking. He gets on his horse, and Chance on foot says good morning. Dude admits that he didn’t sleep or eat anything. He had a beer that did no good. Chance asks if he can stand his watch. Dude says he will let him know if he can’t. Dude goes to the other side of town, gets off his horse, and gets some water. Three men push him in the water trough, hit him, and drag him into a stable. They tie him up and take his hat and vest.
Chance asks Stumpy if Dude had a bad night, and he says he did. They go inside, and Chance tells him not to let Dude cry on his shoulder. He asks Chance why he is picking on Dude. Chance says if you are nice to him, he may fall to pieces. Stumpy complains that no one appreciates him. Chance says he is a treasure and kisses his forehead before going out.
Chance walks on the street and sees three men on horses ahead. Colorado comes out and says good morning to the sheriff. He says people did not expect to hear what they would do to Joe if there was trouble around the jail. They roll tobacco, and Colorado asks why he carries a rifle. Chance says some are faster than he is with a short gun. The three men talk to Chance and then pull their guns, making him drop his rifle and his gun belt. They tell him he is going to release Joe or be killed. Inside Colorado tells Feathers to stay back. He tells her to throw a flower pot through the window after he goes out there and duck after she throws it. Colorado walks out, and a man tells him to keep coming out. When the flower pot goes through the window, the three men turn to it. Colorado tosses the rifle to Chance, and they both shoot the three men. Chance sees a man a ways away and shoots him with his rifle. Chance goes and finds Dude. He unties him and tells him what happened. Dude says if he had Colorado instead of him, this would not have happened. Dude says he should know when he is no good anymore. Dude says he tried hard, but his hands are shaking. He says he quits, and Chance says he can if he wants to. Chance insults him about the spittoon, and Dude slaps him. Chance warns him never to hit him again. He says maybe he is no good anymore. He tells him to come to the jail, and he will pay him. Feathers feels weak, and Colorado suggests a drink will help. Chance on his horse tells Dude to have Stumpy give him a drink. Chance tells the Asian undertaker to bury the four men, and he will pay for it. The undertaker says each man had $100 in their pockets. Chance says the price went up.
In the saloon Feathers has taken three drinks and calls herself an idiot. Chance comes in and says Dude is all right. Chance thanks Colorado who says she helped. She says she helped get three men killed. She says it was her own idea to stay, and he says he is glad she didn’t go. She starts crying and says he has opened another thing. She asks why Colorado is involved in this. She says they are all fools and goes upstairs. Chance asks how she got mixed up in this. Colorado says she was going out to help him. Chance tells Colorado that Burdette knows that he saved him, and now he is in. Colorado says he might as well get paid, and Chance says he will get him a badge. He says Dude quit.
In the jail Stumpy tells Dude what he will do if they come for Joe; he will start blasting. Chance says they are coming in, and Stumpy says he is ashamed to yell. Chance has Colorado take the oath and says he has to take his orders. He tells him to get his stuff and move in there. Chance explains how Colorado helped him. Dude asks if he is as good as he used to be, and Chance says it is close. Dude says he got the best of the deal. Dude shows them his shaking hands. Stumpy and Chance say he can drink, and Dude pours one. The trumpet music starts, and he tells Stumpy to leave the window open. Dude pours the drink back in the bottle and says he did not spill a drop. His shakes are gone because of the music. Now he remembers how he got into this thing. Dude asks Chance for another shot and says Stumpy can take the bottle away. Stumpy says he needs a drink and takes a swig. Dude says he will take the watch. Chance throws him a badge, and he goes out. Stumpy says he has guts. Chance is going out and tells Stumpy to watch out for Colorado coming back because he did not tell him how trigger-happy he is.
Later Dude is lying on his back and singing “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me” while Colorado plays guitar, and Stumpy plays harmonica. Colorado sings too. Stumpy asks Colorado to play another, and he plays and sings, “Cindy.” The three sing. Stumpy says it is better than being on the street and getting shot. Chance says he is right; they could stay in there and asks what supplies they need. Stumpy tells them what they need, and he implies that Dude needs a bath. Dude says he will take a bath while they get the stuff.
Feathers is showing Carlos card tricks, and he lets Chance and Dude in. Chance says they will be sleeping at the jail and will need blankets, tobacco, and matches. Chance says he will be upstairs. Two men capture Carlos, and one is going to tie him up. Dude asks Feathers if she has soap that smells like roses. He says Stumpy likes roses. She asks Chance about moving to the jail and asks if he is sorry he didn’t earlier. He asks if she is, and she tells him by kissing him. Dude asks for a towel, and she says she will finish telling him later.
A man reports to other men on what each of them is doing. The man suggests putting a rope across the bottom of the stairs and goes out and does so. In the hall Chance tells Dude to hurry up. She offers to come by the jail, but he says he does not want her anywhere around there. She says she will not see him for three or four days. He says she will live through it, and she tells him to do the same. The men tell Consuela to call the sheriff and threaten her with a broken bottle. She screams, and they are alerted. Chance runs down the stairs, trips on the rope, and falls on the floor. The men capture him and Dude. The man tells Chance to release Joe in exchange for him. Dude persuades Chance that it is a good idea. They unload their guns. Chance says Burdette has it figured out, but the man says he would have killed Chance already.
Three men walk outside behind Chance and tell him to yell to Stumpy he is coming in. They walk in, and Chance tells Stumpy to open up so that they can release Joe on bail. Stumpy asks for the keys in the drawer. Chance ducks down to get the keys, and Stumpy shoots his rifle and Colorado his gun at the two men. Chance says he going after Duke outside. Stumpy stays to watch the wounded man. Colorado goes with Chance who breaks into a hotel followed by Colorado. Carlos calls to them, and Feathers tells Chance they went out the back door. Colorado asks if they are going after them. Chance asks what Burdette would do if they went after Dude. Chance tells Carlos to tell Burdette that he wants to talk to him and to set a time and a place.
In the jail Chance, Stumpy, and Colorado are waiting. Carlos comes in and says that Burdette does not want to talk; but he is willing to make a trade of Joe for Dude. Chance says they will be there. Stumpy says he can’t do that; they should wait for the marshal. Colorado says Chance and Dude are the only witnesses who will talk. Chance says Dude should have a chance. Stumpy says he is going to get drunk. Chance tells Carlos to go ahead.
Nathan and five men ride into town, and Chance says they are here. He notices a crowd and says there won’t be any tricks. Colorado says he is going along for a closer look. Chance says Stumpy can’t go because he can’t move around fast enough. Stumpy says old cripples aren’t wanted. Chance tells him to bring Joe out. Colorado takes a rifle and extra shells. Joe tells Chance he said he would get out of there. Chance tells him not to open his mouth again, or they will carry him out.
Joe, Chance, and Colorado walk down the street. Chance tells Joe to go through the barn. Inside he tells Joe to sit down. They see Burdette’s men in a house. Chance tells Colorado to take a window and watch Joe. Chance walks out toward the house and calls to Nathan who comes out on the porch. Nathan says they are ready too. They start Dude and Joe walking slowly toward each other. As they are about to meet, Dude runs and pushes Joe to the ground. Joe and Dude fight, and Chance says Dude will take him. Dude tells Chance he got Joe, and Colorado throws him a gun. They shoot while Dude gets the gun. Both sides are shooting at each other. Dude shoots a man who falls from the second story. Men running to a shack are shot, but some get through. Others going on are shot by Stumpy who laughs. Carlos arrives, and Colorado says Stumpy is next to the wagons full of dynamite. Chance tells Carlos to stay there, and he will tell him. Chance gets near Stumpy and tells him about the dynamite. Stumpy grabs a box of dynamite and brings it to Chance. They move farther from the wagon. Stumpy asks Chance if he can shoot well, and Chance asks how far he can throw. Stumpy throws a stick of dynamite, and Chance shoots it to make it explode. Stumpy throws another that gets closer to the building. Chance tells him to throw it harder. This one blows up the porch. Chance asks if he can throw them farther. This destroys the front of the house, and Stumpy says that one did it. The men come out with their hands up.
That night Colorado and Dude come back to the jail and tells Chance that Burdette’s men are gone from town. Chance says they will hold the men for the marshal. Stumpy questions it, and Colorado says he will watch them for a while. Stumpy wants to go out and get a drink. Chance tells him to go. Stumpy decides not to go. Dude asks Chance if he has seen the girl yet. Chance says he did not have time. Dude says the night stage is leaving soon, and she might leave on it. He says she might need help making up her mind. Chance says next he will tell him he does not remember. Dude says a man forgets, and sometimes it is not easy. He says he does not even want to drink. Chance says he is tired of taking care of him. Dude says the sheriff has himself a girl. Chance goes out. Dude says he has a girl, but he doesn’t know it yet. Stumpy imitates Chance and laughs.
Chance sees Consuela in the hall and knocks on her door. Feathers is in a dancehall costume with black stockings. He asks where she got those things. She says she got them where she worked. She says he does not like them and does not want her to wear them. He says he did not say that. She says he is a stubborn man but can’t make up his mind about her. She says he decided what kind of a girl she was. She wanted him to know what kind of a girl he was getting. She says he did not even get mad. She says she would know, but now she does not know. He will have to talk and say he wants her. She says she is going downstairs, and he says if she wears those things in public, he will arrest her. She says he has a funny way of saying things. He tells her to take those things off, and she changes behind a screen. She thought he would never say that he loves her. She says they are different. She talks almost all the time. He will have to get used to it or talk too. She asks if he did not want her to wear the tights. He says he did not want others to see her in them. She asks if she should wear them for him, and he throws them out the window.
In the street Stumpy picks them up and shows them to Dude.
This popular western entertains with interesting personalities who operate on the side of the law against violent lawbreakers, providing justification for the violence they use against their adversaries. Those sometimes discriminated against are presented in a positive way such as an old man who is lame, a recovering alcoholic, and a Mexican.