Matthew Devereaux (Spencer Tracy) is a ranch owner who has built an enormous ranch and mining empire. He raised his sons to carry on his fierce, hard-working Irish settlement spirit, that helped make him a success. However, as a consequence, he's never shown his three older sons by his late first wife, Ben, Mike, and Denny (played respectively by Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brian, and Earl Holliman), his affection as a father and treats these grown men (in their 30s to their 40s), a little better than the hired help.
Even though they are managing the day-to-day operations of the ranch and other enterprises full time, Matt Devereaux still retains complete decisional authority right down to the smallest decisions which angers his eldest son in the process. So, the three elder sons are united against him, for reasons that have nothing to do with either the ranch, or its management.
Joe (Robert Wagner) is Matt's son by his second wife, a Native American princess, "Señora" (Katy Jurado). Because of Joe's mixed ethnicity, he is treated prejudicially by his three half-brothers—all Caucasian sons of Matt's first wife. The town's people call her Señora out of respect for Matt, but not out of respect for her. Matt Devereaux's power and prestige keeps the discrimination by the townspeople towards Joe to a minimum, so long as Joe, an emerging young adult, is principally interested in riding the range alone, and spending time at his mother's native American reservation and with its people.
Joe loves his father and would do anything for him. Because of his wife's insistence that he change his attitude towards their son, Matt Devereaux comes to appreciate his youngest son's love, and allows Matt to converse with the son, who shows no interest in owning and running the ranch empire. For the older brothers, this seems as a rejection by their father, and an attempt to live the lie that he has only one son and not four. So, they resent Joe even more.
The two middle sons rustle cattle and get two Mexicans killed, then get caught by two Indians workers whom they sacked the year before and shot by Matt. After 40 head of cattle die, Matt discovers a copper mine 20 miles away is polluting a stream where he waters his cattle. He becomes furious and leads a raid on the mine. The mine is on Matt's land, but he does not have the mineral rights. The law issues a warrant to arrest whoever was responsible for the attack. To spare his father the agony and humiliation of a stay behind bars, Joe claims responsibility and is sentenced to three years in prison.
Ben and his other brothers rebel against their father in Joe´s absence with such fierceness that the old man suffers a fatal stroke. Joe is permitted to leave prison long enough to attend his father's funeral, during which he formally severs his ties with his brothers and proclaims a blood feud.
Released from prison several years later, Joe returns to the ranch. Señora, his mother, persuades him to forget revenge and leave the country. Joe decides to take her advice, but Ben, fearing his revenge because he killed his father in the end, crosses his path and tries to kill him. The two half-brothers fight until Two Moons, the ranch foreman, shoots Ben dead to save Joe´s life. Time passes, and Joe and his new wife Barbara (Jean Peters) visit Matt's grave. There, Joe sees the down-turned lance, the Indian symbol for a blood feud, and breaks it in half, thus ending the feud.Spencer Tracy as Matt Devereaux
Robert Wagner as Joe Devereaux
Jean Peters as Barbara
Richard Widmark as Ben Devereaux
Katy Jurado as Señora Devereaux
Hugh O'Brian as Mike Devereaux
Eduard Franz as Two Moons
Earl Holliman as Denny Devereaux
E. G. Marshall as Horace - The Governor
Carl Benton Reid as Clem Lawton
Philip Ober as Van Cleve
Robert Burton as Mac Andrews
The film won the Academy Award for Best Story for Philip Yordan. Katy Jurado was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Jurado's role was originally for Dolores del Río. The film also won a Golden Globe Award as Best Film Promoting International Understanding.
The film was released on DVD on May 24, 2005. Viewers have the option of watching either a "pan and scan" full screen version or the original wide screen version. Both versions have stereophonic sound and have been digitally restored. The film has since been released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time in the correct CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1.