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Tribute to a Bad Man

Tribute to a Bad Man poster
Filmed south of Ridgway, Colorado in 1957, Tribute to a Bad Man is a classic American western film written by Jack Schaefer based on his short story entitled "Hanging's for the Lucky". Predominantly filmed on Miller Mesa at the old Walther ranch, near Top of the Pines and the Elk Meadows mailboxes on County Road 5. , Tribute to a Bad Man was to star Spencer Tracy, however production was delayed due to conflicts with director Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story, The Andromeda Strain, The Day the Earth Stood Still). Ultimately, Spencer Tracy was fired and replaced by James Cagney. The movie Tribute to a Bad Man would be Cagney's last western film.

Plot of Tribute to a Bad Man

The general plot of Tribute to a Bad Man revolves around Wyoming rancher Jeremy Rodock's pursuit of the Rustlers that stole his horses and shot him, and his obsession for vengeance. Found and saved by a young cowboy named Steve Miller, Rodock goes on to offer Steve a job at his ranch and sets in motion a plan to find and lynch the Rustlers.

Even Rodock's wrangler McNulty describes Rodock as having a "hanging sickness" to Rodock's own woman, Joacasta Constantine. McNulty has an ulterior motive though and makes a pass at Jo. Ever jealous and suspicious, Rodock first fires McNulty then viciously beats him after seeing McNulty and Jo together.

Rodock continues his search for the Rustlers who stole his stock and suspects them of also murdering his ranch hand, Whitey. Rock further suspects that his former partner L.A. Peterson, played by James Bell, and his son Lars, played by Vic Morrow, are somehow involved. He learns that Peterson has taken on new partners, Hearn and Barjak. Though they deny any involvement, Rodock believes that Peterson, Hearn and Barjak are the thieves and kills Peterson and hangs Hearn.

Vowing to avenge his father, Lars joins with McNulty and Barjak and together they plan to steal all of Rodock's horses. In the meantime, Steve Miller has come to regard Rodock as demented and is sickened his vigilante actions. Having fallen in love with Jo, tries to convince her to leave with him.

The story comes to a climax and ultimate ending has Rodock confronts and captures the horse thieves, bringing them painfully to justice while at the same time coming to his own senses. Tributed to a Bad Man ends with Rodock letting the remaining Rustlers go, seeking restitution with Lars and asking for reconciliation with Jo. Jo has made other plans, however, and is set to leave Rodock for Steve.

Production of Tribute to a Bad Man

Production of Tribute to a Bad Man was not smooth, resulting from both personality conflicts between Spencer Tracy and and Robert Wise, as well as the untimely death of Robert Francis who was originally cast in the role of Steve Miller. James Cagney stepped in to replace Spencer Tracy and Don Dubbins was brought in to replace Robert Francis. The original case also included Grace Kelly, however she turned down the role and was repalce by Irene Papas. Tribute to a Bad Man finished production in 1957 and was not a huge success at the box office.


  • Release: April 13, 1956
  • Duration: 95 Minutes
  • Distributed: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
  • Genre: Western

Production Team

  • Director: Robert Wise
  • Producer: Sam Zimbalist
  • Written by: Jack Schaefer, Michael Blankfort


  • James Cagney
  • Don Dubbins
  • Stephen McNally
  • Irene Papas
  • Vic Morrow

  • James Griffith
  • Onslow Stevens
  • James Bell
  • Jeanette Nolan
  • Lee Van Cleef

Related Businesses

Movie Locations

Spectacular scenery around our charming Colorado town, at the foot of the San Juan Mountains, caught the attention of the director of the film True Grit, starring John Wayne as the one-eyed U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. In 6 weeks in 1969, the film crew turned 5 blocks of the center of this old railroad town into 1880’s Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Miller Mesa

| Movie Locations

While not well known, Tribute to a Bad Man was a significant western. It was written by Jack Schaefer, who also wrote Shane and Monte Walsh and was directed by Robert Wise, who also directed The Sound of Music, West Side Story, The Andromeda Strain and The Day the Earth Stood Still. James Cagney replaced leading man Spencer Tracy who was fired from the set and it was Cagney’s last western.

Tribute to a Bad Man was filmed on Miller Mesa at the historic Walther Ranch, which was homestead by George and Charles Marlow (of Katie Elder fame). The private ranch still features the Marlow’s original cabin.

To reach this area, go south on County Rd. 5 for 5 full miles from Amelia St. in Ridgway. Along the way you will pass the gate entrance of the Walther Ranch and at the end of the 5 miles, you will reach a large open area with stunning views of the Sneffels range: this is the general area where the ranch scenes were shot.