Tribute to a Bad Man
Tribute to a Bad Man FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Wise
Written byJack Schaefer (short story)
Michael Blankfort
Produced bySam Zimbalist
StarringJames Cagney
Don Dubbins
Stephen McNally
Irene Papas
CinematographyRobert L. Surtees
Edited byRalph E. Winters
Music byMiklós Rózsa
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • April 13, 1956 (1956-04-13)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.8 million[1]
Box office$2 million[1][2]

Tribute to a Bad Man is a 1956 American Western film directed by Robert Wise and starring James Cagney about a rancher whose harsh enforcement of frontier justice alienates the woman he loves. It was based on the short story "Hanging's for the Lucky" by Jack Schaefer, the author of Shane.


Rustlers rob horses belonging to wealthy Wyoming rancher Jeremy Rodock and shoot him. He is found by young cowboy Steve Miller, who digs out the bullet, saves Rodock's life and is offered a job at the ranch.

Rodock believes in lynching rustlers personally without arrest or trial. His wrangler McNulty describes it as "a hanging sickness" to Rodock's woman, Jocasta Constantine, a former dance-hall girl ashamed of her past.

McNulty makes a pass at Jo. A jealous and suspicious Rodock sees them leave a barn together and jumps to the wrong conclusion. He fires McNulty, then beats him viciously before ordering him off the ranch.

Rodock sets out to find the men who stole his stock and murdered Whitey, a ranch hand. He rides to former partner Peterson's spread and demands to know if Peterson and son Lars were involved. They deny it, but Rodock soon comes to believe that Peterson and partners Hearn and Barjak are the thieves. He kills Peterson and hangs Hearn.

Lars vows to avenge his father. He joins up with McNulty and Barjak and plan to steal every horse Rodock owns. Steve is sickened by watching a man hang and Jo urges him to speak with Rodock about his vigilante ways. Steve has fallen in love with her and begs her to leave with him, but she will not.

Valuable horses are stolen and McNulty files down the hoofs into bloody stumps. Rodock catches up to the three thieves, makes them dismount and remove their boots. At gunpoint, he forces them to walk to jail through sand, rock and cactus. Barjak ultimately passes out and McNulty begs for mercy.

Rodock comes to his senses. He lets the other rustlers go and returns Lars to the Peterson ranch, where he offers to make restitution. Upon returning home, he finds that Steve is leaving forever and taking Jo with him. Rodock cannot blame either, but when he rides out to bring her some jewelry she left behind, Jo has a change of heart and stays with Rodock after all.



Production began with Spencer Tracy as the star of the film, but he clashed with director Robert Wise and was extremely temperamental causing several delays in filming. When Tracy claimed that the high altitude of the mountain set was making him ill and insisted that the set be moved to a lower location, he was finally dismissed from the film by MGM and replaced by James Cagney. Robert Francis was originally cast in the role of Steve Miller, but he was killed in an airplane crash just before filming began. Francis was replaced by Don Dubbins.[3] Irene Papas replaced Grace Kelly who turned the film down[4] as did Eva Marie Saint and Jennifer Jones.[5]


According to MGM accounts the film earned $1,193,000 in the US and Canada and $849,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $1,623,000.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ Domestic rental information at 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  3. ^ Reed, Rex Irene Papas Interview in Conversations In The Raw BookBaby, 15 Jan. 2013
  4. ^ p. 126 Spoto, Donald High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood Random House, 2010
  5. ^[dead link]