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Brendan O'Malley (Douglas) crosses the border into Mexico to escape justice for a murder. He arrives at the ranch of a former lover, Belle Breckenridge (Malone) and her husband, the drunkard and coward John Breckenridge (Joseph Cotten).
O'Malley meets her daughter Melissa (Carol Lynley). He is immediately attracted to Missy, who reminds him of Belle when they were lovers years ago. Breckenridge, meanwhile, hires O'Malley to drive his herd to Texas.
Sheriff Dana Stribling (Hudson) is pursuing O'Malley. He arrives at the ranchero to serve a warrant for the murder of his brother-in-law.
Stribling does not have jurisdiction to arrest O'Malley in Mexico so he also agrees to join the cattle drive to Texas. He promises to deliver O'Malley to the law upon their arrival.
Along the journey, Stribling and Belle become attracted to each other and plan to marry, and O'Malley and Missy fall in love, increasing the tension between the sheriff and the outlaw.
On the eve of the showdown between the two men, Belle discloses the secret that Missy is the daughter of O'Malley and their incestuous love cannot continue. At the gunfight, O'Malley faces the sheriff with an unloaded gun, effectively committing suicide.
- Rock Hudson as Dana Stribling
- Kirk Douglas as Brendan 'Bren' O'Malley
- Dorothy Malone as Belle Breckenridge
- Joseph Cotten as John Breckenridge
- Carol Lynley as Melissa 'Missy' Breckenridge
- Neville Brand as Frank Hobbs
- Regis Toomey as Milton Wing
- James Westmoreland as Julesburg Kid (as Rad Fulton)
- Adam Williams as Calverton
- Jack Elam as Ed Hobbs
- John Shay as Bowman