(1962) At the end of the Old West era in California with carnivals and circuses providing aging gunslingers with employment in shooting galleries, former federal marshal Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) rides into town as a young rowdy wins a race on a camel against horsemen. Past his prime, Judd, a man with a code of ethics and capable of quoting Scripture, has come to accept a contract with a bank (he takes out his reading glasses to inspect the document in private) to transport gold down from the Coarse Gold strike in the Sierras - several miners have been robbed and killed - in order to recover his self-respect.
In need of help on the two-day ride, when he discovers his erstwhile partner, Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott), acting the part of the Oregon Kid in the traveling show, he offers Gil a chance to prove his worth as when they were lawmen together; Gil introduces his current partner, Heck Longtree (Ron Starr), a brash kid with his fists and atop a camel. But Gil, having other ideas for the gold, tries to steer Steve's thinking his way by talking about old times with ungrateful citizens and unpaid services.
On their trek into the mountains they stop at the ranch of Joshua Knudsen (R.G. Armstrong), a very pious widower, with his daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley in her first feature film), a lonely girl who takes an interest in Heck's amorous attentions. The next day Elsa catches up with the trio, telling them she's left her father (who'd struck her again for flirting with someone beneath his contempt) to marry Billy Hammond (James Drury), a miner she'd met a few times earlier.
When Heck tries to force himself on Elsa, Gil reminds Heck, who's already made a few mistakes by challenging Judd's authority - "Kid, you've got an awful lot to learn" - that romancing isn't part of this job. Steve explains to Gil how as a youngster like Heck he'd been with the Hole-in-the-Wall outlaw gang before getting the sense of right from wrong knocked into him.
As Judd collects gold dust and hands out receipts for guarantees of deposit, Elsa gets introduced to Billy's unsavory brothers - Sylvus (L.Q. Jones), Jimmy (John David Chandler), Elder (John Anderson), and Henry (Warren Oates) - and married by the "fat-gutted soak" Judge Tolliver (Edgar Buchanan) inside Kate's whorehouse. Finding out that Billy and his pawing, envious brothers are not what she expected and far worse than living alone with her father, Elsa cries out for help inside the honeymoon suite.
Rescued with Judd's promise to return her to her home - but first having to convince the miners' court that the wedding wasn't legitimate - Gil protests: "We're packing gold, not petticoats." Overruled by Judd, as the four head back toward the town, Gil and a now less-than-enthusiastic Heck make their move to take the gold.
In director Sam Peckinpaw's otherwise grand old western of two grand old-timers, seeking either nobility or fortune, from N.B. Stone Jr's screenplay and filmed in Inyo National Forest, when the Hammond brothers, discovering they've been duped, chase after Elsa, the question as to who had been robbing and killing the miners is left unanswered. I'm with Heck when he says: "I never figured it'd turn out this way."
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