- Directors: Howard Hawks
- Producers: Howard Hawks
- Writers: Harry Brown, Leigh Brackett
- Genres: Western, Action, Adventure
- Actors: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Paul Fix
Cole Thornton (John Wayne), an infamous gunslinger, is hired by wealthy rancher Bart Jason (Ed Asner) to help him in a ranch war with the McDonald family. While making a stop at the town of El Dorado, the local sheriff and an old friend, J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum), approaches him and gives him more sensitive details about the mission of his which Jason had deliberately left out, including the possibility of having to face Harrah in combat. Unwilling to do this, Thornton agrees to quit, though the possibility of a clash between the two is briefly hinted at with the arrival of saloon owner Maudie (Charlene Holt), who is in love with Thornton (and was for a time also the romantic interest of Harrah’s).
In the meantime, however, the McDonalds learn of Thornton’s presence in town. Fearing that he might come for them, Kevin McDonald (R. G. Armstrong) puts his youngest son, Luke, on guard. When Thornton passes by on his way back from visiting Jason to tell him that he is not going to work for him, Luke (Johnny Crawford), who has fallen asleep, wakes and fires a wild warning shot, whereupon Thornton reflexively shoots him. Luke is still alive when Thornton comes to him, but he refuses treatment upon the belief that a gut-shot man wouldn’t have a chance anyway, and commits suicide when Thornton is not looking. Thornton brings Luke’s body to the McDonald farm and offers an explanation, but the only McDonald daughter, Joey (Michele Carey), impulsively rides off before Thornton can finish and subsequently ambushes him. Her shot is not fatal, but the bullet lodges next to Thornton’s spine and in time begins to trouble him by occasionally pressing against the spinal cord, causing temporary paralysis of his right side each time. The local doctor (Paul Fix) is unable to remove the bullet and, after healing up, Thornton departs El Dorado for a new job.
About half a year later, Thornton runs into another gunslinger for hire named Nelse McLeod (Christopher George) and a young greenhorn nicknamed Mississippi (James Caan), who has come for revenge against one of McLeod’s men. Thornton learns that McLeod has been hired by Jason for the very same job Thornton had turned down months ago, and Harrah has turned into a drunk after an unhappy love affair. Thornton returns to El Dorado, where he, Mississippi, and deputy sheriff Bull (Arthur Hunnicutt) try their best both to protect the McDonalds from Jason’s scheming and restore the drunken Harrah to his old self.