Tribute to a Bad Man (1956): Robert Wise’s Western, Starring James Cagney, Irene Papas, Vic Morrow

Robert Wise directed Tribute to a Bad Man, a Western starring James Cagney as a rancher whose harsh enforcement of frontier justice alienates the woman he loves.

It was based on the short story “Hanging’s for the Lucky” by Jack Schaefer, the author of Shane.

In the first scene, rustlers rob horses that belong to wealthy Wyoming rancher Jeremy Rodock and shoot him. He is found by young cowboy Steve Miller, who saves Rodock’s life and is offered a job at the ranch.

Rodock believes in lynching rustlers without arrest or trial. His wrangler McNulty describes it as “hanging sickness” to Rodock’s woman, Jocasta Constantine, a former dance-hall girl ashamed of her past.

A jealous and suspicious Rodock sees them leave a barn together and jumps to the wrong conclusion. He fires McNulty, then beats him before ordering him off the ranch.

In the end, Rodock comes to his senses. He lets the other rustlers go and returns Lars to the Peterson ranch, where he offers to make restitution.

Upon returning home, he finds that Steve is leaving, taking Jo with him. Rodock cannot blame either, but when he rides out to bring her the jewelry she left behind, Jo changes her mind and stays with Rodock after all.

Production began with Spencer Tracy as the film’s star, but he clashed with director Robert Wise and was extremely temperamental. When Tracy claimed the high altitude of the mountains made him ill and insisted that the set be moved to a lower location, he was dismissed and replaced by James Cagney.

Robert Francis was originally cast in the role of Steve Miller, but he was killed in an airplane crash before filming began. Francis was replaced by Don Dubbins.

Irene Papas replaced Grace Kelly who turned the film down. as did Eva Marie Saint and Jennifer Jones.

film earned $1,193,000 in the US and Canada and $849,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $1,623,000.

James Cagney as Jeremy Rodock
Don Dubbins as Steve Miller
Stephen McNally as McNulty
Irene Papas as Jocasta Constantine
Vic Morrow as Lars Peterson
James Griffith as Barjak
Onslow Stevens as Hearn
James Bell as L.A. Peterson
Jeanette Nolan as Mrs. Peterson
Lee Van Cleef as Fat Jones