Synopsis by Bruce Eder
Audiences got their money's worth and then some from Byron Haskin's The Denver and Rio Grande. Edmond O'Brien plays Jim Vesser, a former U.S. Cavalry officer and hero, now the man in charge of getting the D&RG's tracks across the Rockies first to secure a right-of-way -- he revels in the job, chosen for it by General Palmer (Dean Jagger), his former commanding officer, who is chairman of the D&RG. But he suddenly finds himself in competition with the somewhat less scrupulous Canyon City and San Juan line, whose right of way is being secured by the much less honest and more ruthless McCabe (Sterling Hayden). At their first meeting, McCabe provokes a fight in which he shoots his own chief engineer, Bob Nelson -- another ex-Cavalry officer -- and manages to pin it on the unconscious Vesser. Although he avoids jail, Vesser is so torn up with guilt over what he thinks he has done that he leaves the railroad. Months go past, and in that time the Denver and Rio Grande steadily loses its lead over the rival company, as "accidents" and unrest among the men seem to plague their every move. Vesser finally decides to step back into the fight when one of these seeming accidents nearly wrecks the train on which he's hitched a ride. Coming to the aid of the general, he takes a two-fisted approach to the problem of McCabe that puts the two on a collision course in more ways than one. He also wouldn't mind getting to know the general's secretary, Linda Prescott (Laura Elliott), a little better, but for reasons that no one around her can explain, she is standoffish and even openly hostile to him. The conflict between Vesser and McCabe turns into what amounts to guerilla warfare between the two outfits, but somehow McCabe and his chief gunman, Johnny Buff (Lyle Bettger), always seem to be a half-step or more ahead of Vesser.
accident, battle [war], business, chase, collision, competition, conflict, disaster, engineering, locomotive, race-against-time, racer, railroad, rival, train [locomotive], train-disaster, weapons