The Naked Spur is a 1953 American western movie directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart in their third collaboration. The screenplay was written by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom. The original music score was composed by Bronislau Kaper and the cinematography was by William C. Mellor.
Filmed just north of Durango, Colorado, Engineer Mountain can be seen in several shots.
Kemp, now on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains in Southwestern Colorado, meets a grizzled old prospector, Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), on the trail and enlists him to help for $20.00. Tate assumes that Kemp is a sheriff and Kemp does nothing to say otherwise.
After trapping somebody on top a rocky hill, Kemp is convinced that it must be Vandergroat, landslides force them to retreat. Looking for a way around the hill they meet a Union soldier Lieutenant Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) from 6th Cavalry, just discharged from Fort Ellis, in Bozeman, and is heading east. Tate questions why Anderson isn't on the Bozeman Trail, which heads east from Bozeman, and is so far off of the trail. Anderson says that there is some "bad tempered Indians" whose chief's daughter fell in with a handsome young army lieutenant. While he explains this Kemp reads his discharge order, which reads "with dishonor, conduct unbecoming an officer: Character unsatisfactory, morally unstable". Anderson joins them. Tate tells Anderson that Kemp is sheriff. With the aid of Anderson who scales a sheer cliff face, Vandergroat is caught along with a companion, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh), the daughter of one of Ben's friends, Frank Patch, who was shot dead trying to rob a bank in Abilene.
Vandergroat sets Tate and Anderson straight on the fact that Kemp is not a lawman and the amount of the reward, $5000.00 reward for Vandergroat, dead or alive. Tate and Anderson decide they want a portion of the reward money and decide to help Kemp to get back to Kansas. Lina is convinced that Ben is innocent of killing the marshal.
On the way back, Ben tries to turn his captors against each other using greed. He also tries to encourage Lina to use her beauty to divide Kemp and Anderson. When scouting a way through a mountain pass, Kemp and Tate spot about a dozen Blackfeet, normally friendly, way out of their normal hunting area. When they tell the group, Anderson confesses that they are after him. Kemp tells Anderson to get going to avoid being captured by the Blackfeet. Anderson assumes Kemp is doing this to keep more of the reward money. Anderson rides ahead and ambushes the leader of the band when the two groups are about to talk.
Kemp saves Lina during the battle with the Blackfeet, she helps him when he gets shot in the leg. Kemp passes out on the trail and then wakes from a delirious nightmare and thinks that Lina is Mary, his ex-fiancée. Ben tells them that Kemp's ex-fiancée had sold his ranch while he was serving in the army during the Civil War. Vandergroat tells Anderson and Tate that Kemp is determined to buy his ranch back, and it can't happen if the splits the reward. Between Kemp saving her, getting shot, and hearing about Mary and the ranch, Lina begins to care for Kemp. She has never seen Ben hurt anyone unless it was in a fair fight. After Ben loosens Howard's saddle cinch strap he tries to push Howard off a cliff on a high mountain pass, Lina feels sympathetic for Howard. She is soon torn between loyalty to Ben and a growing attraction to Howard.
A rain storm comes and the party seeks refuge in a cave, which has a very narrow entrance at the other end. Ben manipulates Lina into distracting Howard. As Howard asks Lina if she would like to join him on the ranch, after they get back to Abilene and he repurchases the ranch. She tells him of her dream to go to California, where it is new, nobody knows her, and she can make a fresh start. Howard lets a deep attraction for Lina come over him and he kisses her passionately. Ben tries to cause a cave in separating him and the rest of them, and the narrow end of the cave. After Kemp catches Vandergroat at the narrow end of the cave, he takes him back to the other end, and Anderson wants to kill him. Tate stops Anderson, but caught up in the anger of the moment Kemp grabs Anderson's revolver and sticks in Ben's pants, tells Tate and Anderson to cut him lose and offers him a duel right there. Vandergroat refuses.
The group gets to a river where the river is running high. They argue about whether to cross or go down stream. Anderson grabs a rope and throws it around Ben's neck and says that he will drag him across the river. A fight ensues between Kemp and Anderson, as Vandergroat watches will joy over the prospect of them killing each other. Kemp finally manages to kick Anderson unconscious. While Kemp and Anderson recover from the fight and Lina searches for firewood, Ben convinces Jesse into sneaking off with him to find a gold mine that Vandergroat keeps trying to temp Tate with. When they go to escape during the night, Vandergroat convinces Tate to take along Lina. Ben and Lina ride double and along the trail Ben yells snake and in the confusion gets the drop on Tate and takes his rifle from him. Now that he has a rifle, Ben then kills Tate in cold blood to draw Kemp and Anderson to them, to ambush them. Lina finally sees what kind of man Ben really is.
The other two, hearing gun shots that Vandergroat keeps firing to draw them, find Tate's body where Vandergroat has positioned it for the ambush. Having the drop on Anderson and Kemp from a high cliff face, Ben waits until the two are close together over Tate's body. Just as Ben prepares to shot Kemp, Lina grabs the rifle barrel and saves Kemp's life. A shootout ensues, and while Anderson exchanges gunfire with Vandergroat, Kemp outflanks Ben. Kemp takes off one of his spurs to aid his climbing, using it to climb, as a combination climbing ax and makeshift piton. When Ben, hearing the finally looks for Kemp he has the drop on Kemp as he climbs up a sheer rock face. throws it into the left cheek of Vandergroat. As Ben reels from the pain of the spur, he is shot by Anderson and his body falls into the nearby river, where it becomes entangled in the roots of a tree. Anderson lassos the branch on the other side of the river and crosses using the rope. He then wraps it around Ben's body, but when Roy goes to retrieve it, he is crushed by another large tree floating down the river.
Kemp grabs the rope and drags Ben's body across the river and in anger vows that he will take him back to pay for his land. Lina pleads with Howard not to take blood money for bringing Ben in. Then when she finally says that she will go with him, no matter what, that she will marry him and live with him on the ranch, Howard realizes what he is doing and his love for her makes him stop. They bury Ben instead then head to California.
Although the film generally receives credit for teaming James Stewart with Anthony Mann for several films, Robert Ryan also teamed with Mann in The Naked Spur, Men In War, and God's Little Acre. Leonard Maltin has lauded The Naked Spur as "one of the best westerns ever made."