Cast & Crew
Texas Ranger Steve Burden is on the trail of his ex-partner, Ray Hendry, who has been charged with murder. When Steve catches up to him, Ray protests that he has been framed, then draws his pistol, leaving Steve no choice but to shoot him. When Steve returns to town witih Ray's body, his boss, Capt. Peters, alarmed by the number of men Steve has shot, accuses him of using his badge as a license to kill. Affronted, Steve, who joined the law to atone for the transgressions of his outlaw father, throws down his badge. Sim Hacker, the sheriff of El Celita, the town in which Ray was accused of murder, then offers Steve a job as his deputy. Hacker tells Steve that he believes Ray was framed by Rice Martin, the ruthless cattle baron who rules the town. Although he refuses the job, Steve accompanies Hacker to El Celita to investigate. Steve and Hacker arrive at the local saloon just as rancher Herb Thompson denounces Martin as a bully. When Steve asks if a woman named Fern works at the dance hall, the crowd falls silent in fear. Later, after Mitch Willis, Martin's lackey, reports to his boss that Steve mentioned the name Fern, Martin, whose wife is named Fern, becomes insanely jealous and orders Vince Kane, one of his gunmen, to "maim" Steve. Later, at the saloon, Martin watches as Kane tries to break Steve's back in a fistfight. After besting Kane, Steve goes to see the sheriff and accepts the deputy job. When Martin returns to his ranch and tells his wife that he "owns her," Fern, who loathes her husband, responds with icy disdain. Martin then sends his top gun, John Rodman, to kill Thompson and steal his cattle. Soon after, Martin's cowardly attorney, George Dennison, comes to the ranch and objects to Martin's ruthless tactics. As he leaves, Fern, with whom George is having a clandestine affair, calls to him. That night, Steve returns to his hotel room to find Fern waiting for him. When Steve tells Fern that Ray mentioned her name, she asserts that she will use anyone to get what she wants, then kisses him. Fern then offers to strike a bargain with Steve: she will help him prove that Martin framed Ray if Steve agrees to kill Martin. The next morning, Steve rides out to the Martin ranch to question Rodman, one of the men who testified against Ray. When Steve encounters Martin there, he taunts him about Fern's visit. After Steve leaves, Martin orders Rodman to kill him. Later, in El Celita, Rodman summons Steve to the saloon, points to a clock and tells him that he has one hour to leave town. Steve contemptuously shoots out the clock, slaps Rodman in the face, then walks away. Unnerved, Rodman draws his gun to shoot Steve in the back, but Steve twirls around, averting the bullet, and shoots Rodman dead. Afterward, Steve weighs his gun in one hand and badge in the other, wondering if Peters was right about his killer instincts. Later that night, Fern tells Steve that Rodman and his men ambushed Ray, who only killed in self-defense. After declaring that she wants Steve to help her "settle a score" with her husband, Fern passionately kisses him, but Steve spurns her and rides away. In town, Steve returns his badge to Hacker, explaining that his job is done now that he has proved Ray was framed. At that moment, Larry, Thompson's young son, drives into town, with the dead body of his father lying in the back of the wagon. After Larry states that he found his father's body in the corral, and that their cattle were stolen, Steve pins on the badge to avenge Thompson's murder. Surmising that Martin's men took the rustled herd to Mexico, Steve rides across the border and finds Kane with the cattle. When Steve threatens to sear Kane's flesh with a branding iron, Kane admits that Martin ordered Thompson's killing. After arresting Kane, Steve takes him back to El Celita. Seeing them ride into town, Martin hands Willis a rifle and orders him to climb on a roof and shoot down both Kane and Steve. After Willis kills Kane, the sheriff shoots him off the roof with his rifle before he can harm Steve. With his thugs eliminated, Martin decides to ride to Mexico and find a new hired gun. Upon returning to the ranch, Martin accuses George of wanting Fern and warns that he will be the next to die. Although no one knows the identity of Martin's hired killer, Fern overhears that he wears a patch over one eye. To warn Steve of his peril, Fern sneaks out of the house and rides into town. When one of their servants notifies Martin that Fern is gone, Martin follows her with his rifle. In town, Steve, knowing that a stranger has been sent to kill him, is wary of every shadow and sound and soon finds himself dogged by the jingle of a pair of spurs. The man wearing the spurs mounts his horse just as Fern arrives. Noticing that the man sports an eye patch, Fern warns Steve, who outdraws his assassin. Just then, Martin arrives and knocks Steve down with a blast from his rifle. Jumping to his feet, Steve aims his pistol at Martin just as Martin discovers that his weapon is empty. As Larry and the sheriff watch the standoff, Larry urges Steve to kill Martin, but Steve drops his gun. When Martin accuses Fern of luring Ray into the ambush, she shoots him, then asks Steve to take her away. Steve turns her over to the sheriff, then leaves his gun behind and walks away with Larry.
Robert B. Williams
Francis De Sales
James M. Crowe Jr.
According to a January 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, Russell Hughes was originally signed to write the script. "Hard Man," the serialized story by Leo Katcher on which the film was based, was published as a novel by the same title in 1957.