Award-winning cinematographer Victor Milner, in addition to photographing the film, also has a bit part in the movie.
A portion of the film was shot in Pioneertown and features footage of the "cantina" building that now houses Pappy & Harriet's.
Americans Doug and Helen Stilwin (Barry Sullivan and Barbara Stanwyck) and their young son Bobby (Lee Aaker) embark on a vacation, driving across the border into desolate Baja California in Mexico to a remote fishing spot along the coast that her father used to frequent with his old military buddies.
Upon arrival at the remote beach, young Bobby goes exploring out onto a precarious, rotting jetty high above the water. His foot gets stuck in a crack between boards. After Doug frees him, they start back, but part of the jetty collapses and a wooden piling falls on Doug's leg, trapping him on the beach just as the tide starts coming in. Helen tries to lift the piling with their car jack, but it breaks. Doug sends her for a rope or help at a deserted gas station they stopped at earlier. He estimates they have four hours before he drowns in the rising surf.
Helen speeds away in the family car. She comes across some Mexicans, but the language barrier proves insurmountable. Helen reaches the gas station and finds rope. A man named Lawson (Ralph Meeker) appears. Helen explains her predicament, and the man gets in the car. Hidden out of her sight, however, is a dead man. It soon becomes clear that Lawson has no interest in helping her husband; he is a dangerous escaped convict. He finds Doug's pistol in the glove compartment. When they spot a police car approaching, Lawson makes her drive and pretends to be asleep. He threatens to kill her if she betrays him.
Meanwhile, a fishing boat passes by the beach, but too far away for Doug and Bobby's shouts for help to be understood; a crewman thinks they are just friendly tourists and the boat sails away.
Lawson runs through a police roadblock and eventually blows out a tire. As he changes the tire, Helen tries to hit him, but he is too alert. Another police car pursues them, but Lawson drives it off the road, flipping it. Lawson hides out in an abandoned house to wait for the police to pass. While waiting there, Helen tells him she will do "anything" to save her husband. Lawson kisses her several times, but whatever ensues is not shown. Then Helen points out that he will need to change his clothes; his shirt has a prisoner number on the back and he left his jacket behind while fleeing the police. She says he is about the same size as her husband, plus he could also take Doug's identification and she would go along to corroborate his disguise. Lawson is convinced and drives to the beach. He ties the rope to the fallen piling and the car bumper and tries to pull it loose, without success. He then decides to leave, but Helen refuses to give up, so Lawson comes up with another idea. He uses a plank to wedge the piling off Doug, saving his life.
Helen offers to hold up her end of the bargain and leave with Lawson, but he decides to go on alone. Then he sees the car has another flat tire, and a police siren is heard. Helen shakes hands with Lawson, before he flees on foot down the coast. When the police drive up, Helen does not tell them about Lawson.Barbara Stanwyck as Helen Stilwin
Barry Sullivan as Doug Stilwin
Ralph Meeker as Lawson
Lee Aaker as Bobby Stilwin
According to MGM records the film earned $1,206,000 in the US and Canada and $409,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $264,000.
Film critic Dennis Schwartz gave the film a positive review, writing, "John Sturges (Joe Kidd/Ice Station Zebra/Bad Day at Black Rock) directs with his usual aplomb this slick family vacation horror story, viewed as a tense psychological thriller ... Sturges, always the master craftsman, got the most he could have from this routine thriller. The modestly budgeted film turned into a surprise box-office hit for MGM."