A tall horseman (Jock Mahoney) rides into the small town of Arborville, deserted except for redheaded Jody (Luana Patten), who's uncomfortable about it. Outside town, the rider finds all the townspeople working on an oil rig on a small ranch. They're led by Cal Moore (Charles McGraw), and include brothers Aaron (Claude Akins) and Adam Grant (Lee Van Cleef). The stranger asks a few questions, rousing the ire of the hot-tempered brothers, who toss him into a pool of oil. Glossy black but unconcerned, the stranger ambles out and rides back to town. Jody helps him clean up, so he tells her he has come to meet an old Indian who lived on the property where the oil well now is; he's clearly surprised when she refers to the old man, now missing, as Joe Dakota. Meanwhile, the townspeople gather, and we learn that Cal is a newcomer to town, an oil expert who decided to cast his lot with Arborville. We also learn that something happened to the old Indian, and that the townspeople were involved. The townspeople later are horrified when the stranger announces that he owns the land where the oil well is, and that his name is Joe Dakota.
Later, Jody comes to see Joe at the ranch, and reveals that the old man was her friend; she often came out to visit him. Joe tells her that the old man, whom he'd known well some years before, had simply borrowed his name. Jody says that the last time she'd visited the old Indian, he'd been drunk and had attacked (but not raped) her. Egged on by Cal, the townspeople had lynched him. The next day, Joe hangs a noose on the Arborville town sign, and puts a cross on the old man's grave. He explains that he was a captain in the infantry, and the old man was the finest scout he'd ever known. Everyone gathers at the oil well, where Joe explains that it was Cal who had attacked Jody, framing the old man for the crime to get the town to lynch him. He and Cal have a fight, but the townspeople, ashamed of what they've done, side with Joe.
Universal-International turned out quite a number of well-down, medium-budget westerns in the late 1950s, often starring Audie Murphy. This time, however, the lead is former stuntman Jock Mahoney, whom the studio was trying to groom as a star; his easy-going but very masculine personality made him ideal for roles such as this. The movie, co-written by Perry Mason's "Hamilton Burger," (William Talman), seems to owe something to Bad Day at Black Rock, but the plot works well in this context, too. There are good small details, like a wine store instead of a saloon, the town's beloved water trough, and the stranger's midnight shave. Richard H. Bartlett's direction is as low-key as the movie -- scarcely a shot is fired, and few wear guns -- and as likable. Joe Dakota is "just another movie," but it's a very good example of its long-gone kind. ~ Bill Warren, Rovi
- Jock Mahoney, Luana Patten, (more)