Cast: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, John Qualen, Olive Carey, Henry Brandon, Ken Curtis, Harry Carey Jr., Dorothy Jordan, Walter Coy, Antonio Moreno, Hank Worden, Beulah Archuletta, Pippa Scott, Patrick Wayne, Lana Wood, Peter Mamakos, Robert Lyden
Martha (Jordan) and Aaron Edwards (Coy) watch a rider approach their ranch house on the Texas plains. Aaron’s brother Ethan (John Wayne) is returning home many years after he went off to war. He still wears his Confederate Army overcoat. From the moment Ethan enters her home, Martha’s eyes seldom stray from him. Ethan is warmly welcomed by his teenage niece, Lucy (Scott), younger niece Deborah (Lana Wood), and nephew Ben (Lyden). The family is joined at dinner by Aaron’s adopted son, Martin Pawley (Hunter). Ethan gives Ben his saber and Debbie a beautifully enameled war medal, but he disparages Martin. Years earlier, Ethan rescued the infant Martin after his folks had been massacred. Violent encounters with the Indians have built in Ethan a deep-felt resentment toward the natives, and he cannot forget that Martin is one-eighth Cherokee. Aaron tells Ethan that continued frontier struggles are causing some ranchers to leave. Ethan says he’s there to stay, and gives Aaron 180 double eagles, saying he’ll pay his way. His saddle bag is full of Yankee gold coins. A group of armed riders arrive the next day, led by the Reverend Capt. Samuel Johnston Clayton (Bond). Cattle have been stolen from the neighboring ranch of Lars Jorgensen (Qualen), and Texas Ranger Clayton is deputizing men to go after the thieves. Ethan decides to join Clayton’s posse, but tells Aaron to stay close at home. Clayton notices Martha picking up Ethan’s coat from a trunk and lovingly pat it down. He gazes away as Martha walks behind him to give Ethan his coat and the two touch in a wordless goodbye. The posse finds Jorgensen’s cattle 40 miles away, killed by Comanche lances. Stealing the cattle was a ruse to draw away the ranchers. At dusk in the Edwards farmhouse, the family routine is chillingly disrupted when almost imperceptible noises and a distant flash make Aaron realize that his home is about to be raided by an Indian war party. When Ethan, Martin and Mose Harper (Worden) return to the Edwards place, they find it ransacked. Ethan rushes inside the house and backs out in shock. He has Mose keep Martin from going in and seeing what was done to Martha. Lucy and Debbie are missing, abducted by the Comanche raiders. After the funerals, the posse sets out again. Ethan finds Lucy’s desecrated body, and Lucy’s fiancée dies trying to avenge her. Ethan and Martin alone continue to search for Debbie’s captors. Ethan says to Martin, “We’ll find them in the end, I promise you. We’ll find them. Just as sure as the turning of the Earth.” The relationship between Martin and his sweetheart Laurie Jorgensen (Miles) is tested by long absences and infrequent letters, as the search continues for years, across the spectacular scenery of the western territories. From trader Jerem Futterman (Mamakos), Ethan learns that Debbie is alive. She’s the captive of a band of Nawyecka Comanche. The renegade leader, Chief Scar (Brandon), is aware that white men are on his trail. When Ethan figures out the likely relationship between the teenage Debbie (Natalie Wood) and Scar, he thinks her fate is worse than death. Ethan’s resourcefulness, grim determination, and skills make him almost an unstoppable force. When Mose helps track down Scar’s band, Clayton quickly organizes a company of Rangers for an avenging raid, and Martin realizes he must stop Ethan from killing Debbie. Based on the Alan LeMay novel of the same name.