Cast & Crew
The Central City rodeo committee, suspecting that area rodeos have been fixed, hires ex-Texas Ranger Whip Wilson to investigate. On the rodeo practice grounds, local cowboy Jim Bannon notices that the quality of his rival Paul Maxwell's performance fluctuates from day to day and accuses of Maxwell of taking bribes. Posing as a stock surveyor for the Horse Breeders Association, Whip enlists Jim to help with the investigation, asking him to accept a bribe when it is offered to him, in order to provide Whip with evidence against the criminals. In Central City, saloon owner Hanson suggests to Bob Rank, the bank clerk, that the town's businessmen donate to a rodeo prize-money fund to draw better performers and a larger audience. He then asks Bob to propose the idea to the businessmen, explaining that he wants to avoid being accused of self-promotion. Days later, on the main street, Bob encounters Hanson and reports that over $5,000 has been collected for the fund. He then hands Hanson $1,000 in cash in a bank envelope as a first payment towards the $2,000 he borrowed to help finance his new life with his fiancée, Bar Circle Ranch owner Nora Clayton. Soon after, in the saloon, Hanson hands the same envelope to gambler Ace Malloy, but when Maxwell enters and demands a bigger payoff since the prize money has increased, Ace hands him the envelope with $1,000. As Maxwell exits the saloon with the money and rides out of town, Hanson's henchman Jeff follows him and murders him on the trail. Jim and Whip are on their way into town with Jim's friend, local newspaper publisher Smithers, when they hear the gunfire. Whip, Jim and Smithers ride to the crime scene, where Jeff is forced to flee before he has a chance to remove the money from Maxwell's dead body. Whip catches of glimpse of the murderer and then searches the body and finds an envelope with $1,000 and Hanson's name on it. Whip takes the money to the sheriff the next day and shows the bank envelope to Bob to see if he recognizes the signature. Bob says no, even though it is his own handwriting. After Whip leaves the bank, Bob confronts Hanson, demanding to know why the envelope was on a dead man's body, but Hanson threatens to frame him for the murder if he tells anyone from where the envelope came. Meanwhile, the sheriff reports to Whip that Hanson claims that he must have dropped the envelope and someone found it and reused it. At the saloon, Smithers tells Whip that Bob is helping collect the prize money. Just then Hanson, Jeff and Ace walk out of the saloon office together and Whip recognizes Jeff as Maxwell's murderer. Knowing that Jeff will want eliminate the only person who can identify him, Whip leaves the saloon and rides out onto the trail, hoping that Jeff will follow him. After a distance, Whip hides in the boulders and surprises Jeff, whipping the gun from his hand. Back at the saloon office, Jim accepts Ace and Hanson's $1,000 bribe to fix the bronco riding and calf roping competitions, but, as the three walk out of the office, the sheriff arrests Jim for fraud. Smithers, who is at the bar, protests that they have the wrong man and pulls out his gun to defend Jim, prompting the sheriff takes both Jim and Smithers into custody. Later that night, Rusty and Hanson, masked and armed, free Jeff from the jail. Meanwhile, upon Whip's prompting, Nora asks Bob about the recent events. When Bob explains that Hanson was blackmailing him, Nora chastises him for being too cowardly to tell the authorities. Bob then immediately informs Whip and the sheriff about Hanson's involvement in the murder. After the sheriff releases Smithers and Jim, they meet with Whip and the rodeo cowboys to question them about taking bribes and promise immunity to anyone who testifies. When cowboy Joe confesses, Whip devises a plot to trap Hanson when Joe picks up his bribe. Unknown to Ace, Rusty, who was at the cowboy meeting, reports Whip's plans to Hanson. Hanson sends Ace to give Joe his payoff and, when Whip and the sheriff apprehend him, Ace reveals the whole racket. Meanwhile, Hanson and Rusty, aware that they have been exposed, rush to the saloon safe, but find Jeff already there. Unwilling to cut the money three ways, Hanson shoots Rusty. After removing the contents of the safe, Jeff and Hanson steal the $10,000 in prize money at the committee's office. At the same time, Whip rides into town in search of Hanson and finds Rusty's dead body in the saloon. He then spots Hanson and Jeff outside the bank and a shootout ensues. After Whip wounds Jeff, Hanson flees on horseback, but is caught when Whip uses his whip to knock Hanson from his horse. Whip then hands Hanson and the money over to the sheriff. As he rides out of town, Whip meets Smithers on the road, and redirects him to the rodeo for the "real excitement."
Vincent M. Fennelly
The working title for this film was Bronc Rider. Modern sources list Ride 'Em Cowboy as an alternate title for Lawless Cowboys.