Lin McAdam (James Stewart) and his friend High-Spade (Millard Mitchell) arrive in Dodge City for a shooting contest, in which the prize is a perfectly manufactured Winchester repeating rifle, referred to as "One of a Thousand" -- a gun so fine that Winchester won't sell it. Lin runs across Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally) in a saloon and the two would kill each other right there but for the fact that town marshal Wyatt Earp (Will Geer) has everyone's guns. Lin wins the rifle in an extraordinary marksmanship match-up with Brown, but the latter steals the prize from him and sets out across the desert. Thus begins a battle of wits and nerves, and a pursuit to the death. The roots and raw psychological dimensions of that chase are only exposed gradually, across a story arc that includes references to Custer's Last Stand, run-ins with marauding Indians, a heroic stand with a a shady but well-intentioned grifter (Charles Drake), and a meeting with murderous sociopath named Waco Johnny Dean (Dan Duryea), plus a romantic encounter with a young, golden-hearted frontier woman (Shelley Winters). All of these story lines eventually get drawn together neatly and gracefully by director Anthony Mann, who balances the violence of the events with a lyrical, almost poetic visual language.
by Bruce Eder synopsis