|Directed by||Lewis R. Foster|
|Produced by||William H. Pine|
William C. Thomas
|Screenplay by||Lewis R. Foster|
|Based on||story by J. Robert Bren|
|Music by||Darrell Calker|
|Cinematography||Ellis W. Carter|
|Edited by||Howard A. Smith|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$1.7 million|
Clay Fletcher (John Payne), lawyer and returned Civil War rebel officer, feels he needs to ease back into his legal career; he takes an assignment to travel west from his home state of South Carolina to a "frontier settlement called El Paso", in Texas. His mission involves obtaining the signature on estate documents of attorney Henry Jeffers (Henry Hull), whom Clay knows by reputation. He also knows, and is very fond of, Jeffers' daughter, Susan (Gail Russell).
Along the way, he meets a pots-and-pans peddler named Pesky (George 'Gabby' Hayes) and a con-woman, Stagecoach Nellie (Mary Beth Hughes), who steals his wallet. In a saloon in El Paso, Clay witnesses a sham trial; a man is convicted of murder by a drunken judge, who turns out to be Jeffers. When Clay speaks up on the defendant's behalf, he is charged with contempt of court. Unable to pay the fine, his fancy clothing is auctioned off.
Clay is rescued by rancher Nacho Vazquez (Eduardo Noriega), who offers him a place to stay. He also gets reacquainted with Susan, who owns a hat shop. Clay learns the man found guilty of murder was framed by rich, shady land owner Bert Donner (Sterling Hayden) and his stooge, Sheriff La Farge (Dick Foran).
La Farge brutally beats rancher John Elkins (Arthur Space), who has tried to stand up for his rights after discovering that Donner and his crowd, including the sheriff, are going to foreclose on him as they have many other landowners in the area. Clay and Elkins served together during the war and Clay is disturbed that such a thing would happen to someone who had gone into tax arrears only because they were away fighting.
After Clay takes Elkins and his wife home, the gang of men led by Donner and La Farge arrive to foreclose. Clay pleads his friend's case but the men storm further onto the property; after warning them that he will do so, Elkins fires on them and kills a deputy.
The rancher is charged with murder and Clay volunteers to represent him. La Farge tries to have him killed. Clay has Pesky take the judge out of town to sober him up and ensure he stays away from liquor. By the time of the trial and in spite of Donner and his crew making one final attempt to get him to drink before the trial, Jeffers remains sober. He clears Elkins of any wrongdoing. Subsequently, he is dragged by horses and killed; Elkins and his wife (Catherine Craig) are also murdered.
Vowing revenge, Clay forms an outfit of vigilantes to set things right. But in so doing, he is warned by Susan that he is becoming as ruthless as the men he's after. Donner ends up dead and La Farge is set to be lynched when Clay comes to his senses and asks that El Paso's next judge be the one to hand out justice.
- John Payne as Clay Fletcher
- Gail Russell as Susan Jeffers
- Sterling Hayden as Bert Donner
- George 'Gabby' Hayes as Pesky (Pescaloosa) Tees
- Dick Foran as Sheriff La Farge
- Eduardo Noriega as Don Nacho Vázquez
- Henry Hull as Judge Henry Jeffers
- Mary Beth Hughes as Stagecoach Nellie
- H. B. Warner as Judge Fletcher
- Bobby Ellis as Jack Elkins
- Catherine Craig as Mrs. Elkins
- Arthur Space as John Elkins
- Steven Geray as Mexican Joe
The film was based on a story by J Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater. In July 1947 it was purchased by Pine-Thomas Productions who had just made another Western named after a town in the Southwest, Albuquerque (1948). The story was going to depict the real-life Judge Colt. William Holden was originally mentioned as the possible lead.
The film was the first million-dollar-budgeted movie from Pine-Thomas Productions, who had specialised in low budget action films. They had recently increased their budgets because they felt the movies were more profitable that way.
"We've got people working in this one who two years ago wouldn't have been caught dead in a Pine-Thomas picture," said producer Will Thomas. He added, "in the old days, all we had to do was get a guy blown up in an oil well explosion and go from there, but now, when we want to kill someone, we've got to have a good reason."
Filming started October 1948. Some exterior shots were filmed in El Paso, Texas. Other scenes were shot in Gallup, Arizona, Nevada, and at ranches in the San Fernando Valley.
The film was an "okay" box office success, earning $2 million. The New York Times thought that despite the increased budget the film found Pine and Thomas "still in the same low budget groove". The film started a long relationship between Payne and Pine-Thomas.
- Wood, Thomas (October 17, 1948). "ANTE UPPED FOR PINE AND THOMAS". New York Times. p. X5.
- "Detail view of Movies Page". www.afi.com. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
- "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. January 4, 1950. p. 59.
- "Movie Review: El Paso". NY Times. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
- "At the Imperial / Colorful El Paso Boasts Thrills Plus Excellent Star Cast" (The News and Eastern Townships Advocate, June 2nd, 1949, Page Fourteen)
- "It's First Western For Payne" (The Deseret News, November 18, 1948, p.F-6)
- DRAMA AND FILM: Pine and Thomas Will Screen-Glorify El Paso Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times July 30, 1947: A7.
- Pine-Thomas Group to Shoot New Films Los Angeles Times September 5, 1948: D3.
- Variety. 1949 https://archive.org/stream/variety174-1949-06#page/n190/mode/1up/search/'pine-thomas. Missing or empty
- THE SCREEN: Just Pine and Thomas By BOSLEY CROWTHER. New York Times24 Mar 1949: 35.