Along the Great Divide (1951): Raoul Walsh’s Western, Starring Kirk Douglas and Virginia Mayo–Draft

Raoul Walsh directed Along the Great Divide, starring Kirk Douglas (in his very first Western), Virginia Mayo, and Walter Brennan.

Douglas plays Federal marshal Len Merrick (Kirk Douglas) who, alongside his deputies, rescue cattle rustler and murder suspect Tim “Pop” Keith (Walter Brennan) from lynching.  The mob is headed by grieving rancher Ned Roden, whose son was shot in the back.  Merrick insists on taking Keith to Santa Loma to stand trial.

The other ranchers are unwilling to go against a marshal, but Roden vows to administer his brand of justice. He sends his other son, Dan, to gather his ranch hands. Merrick’s offer to help is met with hostility. After Roden leaves, Merrick finds a pocket watch.

Keith suggests that they spend the night at his nearby home. Merrick agrees only to regret his decision when Keith’s daughter Ann ambushes them. Merrick disarms, and when they leave, Ann decides to go with them.

Warned of Roden’s intentions, Merrick takes an unexpected desert route in order tobe able to see if he is trailed. The tactic fails, and the party is overtaken by Roden and his men. In the ensuing gunfight, Merrick’s best friend and deputy, Billy Shear, is wounded. Merrick forces Roden to go away by capturing his son Dan. As they travel on, Billy dies.

Merrick and Ann start falling in love. The marshal reveals that his unswerving devotion to duty is because the one time he neglected it, it cost his father his life. He was a deputy to his marshal father, and refused to help escort two prisoners. All three were lynched. Ann sympathizes, but warns him that her first loyalty is to her father.

Dan convinces the remaining deputy, Lou Gray, to help him escape by the bribe of a ranch.  The group reaches a waterhole, only to find the water undrinkable. All but Merrick want to head to a river half a day to the south. Worried because the river is on the Mexican border, Merrick insists on continuing on to Santa Loma. Gray quickly draws his gun, but Merrick is faster and shoots it out of his hand. Now, he has three prisoners.

After two sleepless, Merrick, exhausted, drops from his horse. Keith grabs his gun, but he is unwilling to shoot. When Gray goes for his rifle, Keith kills him, then hands the gun back to Merrick.

Merrick tells the jury that he is sure Keith is not a killer, but all the evidence and witnesses are against him, and a guilty verdict is reached. Just before Keith is to be hanged, Merrick notices that the watch he found has an inscription to Dan. Confronted with the proof that he killed his own brother, Dan draws his revolver and grabs Ann as a shield. When his father approaches, Dan kills him and tries to flee, but he is shot by Merrick in the back, just like his brother.

Kirk Douglas as Marshal Len Merrick
Virginia Mayo as Ann Keith
John Agar as Deputy Billy Shear
Walter Brennan as Tim “Pop” Keith
Ray Teal as Deputy Lou Gray
Hugh Sanders as Sam Weaver