Michael Winner, an exuberant British director, led with his chin in deciding to go to the States (Mexico) to make a western – his first.
Burt Lancaster, with cold eyes, strong chin, stiff behavior, minimal talk and a swift line on the draw, plays a marshall so dedicated to being a lawman that he is inflexible and even arrogant in his intepretation of it. He rides into a nearby town to pick up a bunch of locals who, on a drunken spree, were responsible for the death of an old man. He finds that they all work for the local bossman, played by Lee J. Cobb. Cobb’s a guy who enjoys local power but hates violence. Robert Ryan is the town’s weak marshal, who in the end is swayed to action with Lancaster.
Point of the story is just how far a man can compromise with his conscience and whether the end justifies the means.
Lancaster, as usual, is a highly convincing marshal, tough and taciturn. Ryan is also excellent as the faded, weak marshal with only memories. But it’s Cobb who quietly steals the film as the local boss who, however, unlike in many such films, is no ruthless villain.