Another tough, superb movie from Anthony Mann, who might be my favorite Mann this year (based on early reviews of Blackhat). We saw some plot threads coming a mile away: the baddie James Stewart has tracked for years is his brother, who killed their father over some greedy business. We’re told during a shooting competition overseen by Wyatt Earp himself (Will Geer, train conductor in The Tall Target) that they’ve got the same training. That day in Dodge, Jimmy wins himself the rare and valuable rifle of the film’s title, and his brother Dutch Henry (Stephen McNally of Criss Cross) immediately steals it and rides off.
America in the 1870’s was populated mainly by horrible drunk murderous gamblers, and we meet a procession of them. Dutch loses the rifle to a trader (John McIntire, sheriff of Psycho) in a card game, who is later (deservedly) murdered for it by Indian chief Rock Hudson – yes! Jimmy teams up with Millard Mitchell (ol’ prospector of The Naked Spur), later kills Chief Rock during an Indian battle vs. the cavalry led by Jay Flippen (who played an Indian himself in Run of the Arrow). The rifle is handed off to the shitty Steve (Charles Drake of All That Heaven Allows) to protect his fiancee Shelley Winters (not recognizable from The Tenant). Steve lasts all of one more scene, seeking refuge at the same house where criminal Waco Johnny (Dan Duryea, the Scarlet Street pimp) decides to have a police shootout with his men. Waco kills Steve, takes the rifle and the girl to his planned meeting with Dutch Henry (Jimmy Stewart’s evil brother, remember?). Jockeying to outdo each other in the bad guy department, Waco and Dutch hit a bank, followed closely by Jimmy Stewart, who kills Waco then chases Dutch into the mountains, finally killing him too, earning himself back the rifle and probably the girl.
I guess Tony Curtis played one of Dutch’s men, not that we noticed. Wikipedia claims it was supposed to be a Fritz Lang project with a different story, Stewart more obsessed with the rifle.