In his first western since 1939's The Oklahoma Kid, James Cagney is a pillar of integrity in the Pine-Thomas production Run for Cover. Cagney plays Matt Dow, who at the beginning of the film has been released from prison after serving six years for a crime he didn't commit. Heading westward, Matt befriends young Davey Bishop (John Derek), whom he begins to regard as the son (or brother) he never had. When Davey is injured during a train holdup, Matt brings him to the farm of Mr. Swenson (Jean Hersholt) to convalesce. Here Matt falls in love with Swenson's daughter Helga (Viveca Lindfors). When word of Matt's prowess with a gun reaches the local townsfolk, he is offered the job of sheriff. Matt accepts, but on one condition: that the crippled Davey be appointed deputy. Matt's faith in Davey proves to be misplaced when the embittered boy throws in with the dreaded Gentry gang, but an 11th hour regeneration caps this "psychological western." The curiously Freudian relationship between Matt and Davey was par for the course for Nicholas Ray, who directed Run for Cover betwixt and between his more famous endeavors Johnny Guitar and Rebel without a Cause.
by Hal Erickson synopsis