Cast & Crew
John Barrymore Jr.
At Horse Davis' Texas cattle ranch, a wild young man is caught stealing food from the bunkhouse kitchen. The cook, Boatwhistle, nicknames the prowler Cooncat, and the next morning, rancher Pat Farrell, who is engaged to Horse's daughter Abby, says the boy stole a horse from him. Horse suspects that Cooncat is guilty of something much worse, and after a ranch hand drags him behind his horse, Cooncat confesses to killing a trader named Jim Shell. As Horse and his men accompany Cooncat to the trading post, Cooncat explains that Shell offered to hold his money for safekeeping but then refused to give it back. Two strangers gave Cooncat a gun and told him to demand his money, and Shell attacked him. When Cooncat came to, Shell was lying dead on the floor. To confirm Cooncat's story, he and the others return to the trading post, but there is no body, and everything is covered with a thick layer of dust. Although Pat suggests turning Cooncat over to the sheriff, Horse insists on sorting the situation out himself. At the ranch, Cooncat describes the two strangers, Smiling Man and Roper, and Boatwhistle is stunned, as his description fits two men that he and Horse killed while fighting a bitter fence war with the Jessup family fifteen years before. Cooncat tries to convince Horse's men that Smiling Man and Roper have followed him, but no one believes him except Meagan, Horse's younger daughter. Later, at a barn-warming to celebrate Pat and Abby's engagement, Pat receives word that his parents have been murdered, and the circumstantial evidence points to Cooncat. Convinced of Cooncat's guilt, Pat wants to hang him, but Horse intervenes, creating a rift between the old friends. Pat, who lives on the former Jessup land, has the fence put back up, and when Abby orders her men to tear the fence down and burn it, a gunfight erupts, during which Abby is injured. In the bunkhouse, Cooncat encounters Smiling Man and Roper, but they let him go, remarking that the boy is their lucky charm since everything gets blamed on him. Despite Cooncat's attempts to stop him, Boatwhistle enters the bunkhouse and is shot to death by Smiling Man. Horse orders his men to block all the trails and search for Cooncat, who he now believes is a Jessup. Before running away, Cooncat tells Meagan what really happened to Boatwhistle, adding that he now realizes that the other men actually fired the shots that killed Shell. Believing that he will be exonerated if he can produce Shell's body, Cooncat heads back to the trading post, followed by Meagan, who has left a note for her father. Cooncat and Meagan are searching the trading post when Smiling Man appears and tells them that Shell's body is hidden in the canyon. Smiling Man and Roper steal the young people's horses, stranding them at the trading post, but when they return in the morning to ambush Horse and his men, Cooncat runs out to warn Horse and is injured in the gunfire. Horse comes face to face with the malevolent strangers, and he recognizes Smiling Man as Bob Jessup, who was a child during the fence war and has been away in prison for years. Smiling Man is about to kill Horse when he is shot by Pat, who has abandoned the feud at Abby's request. As Meagan cradles the wounded Cooncat in her arms, Horse and Pat vow that the young man will never want for anything again.
John Barrymore Jr.
W. Howard Greene
The working title of this film was Deadfall. The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: "Everything you are about to see was photographed on these cattle ranches...near Marfa in the Big Bend country of Texas." The individual brands of the six different ranches used for filming are also displayed. "High lonesome" is a Texas expression describing a tall windmill on a ranch.