In this experimental 1954 Western, director William Wellman uses black-and-white backgrounds with occasional splatches of color on certain characters' bodies and clothes. On a snowbound ranch in northern California, the Bridges family is trapped by winter weather and its own internal conflicts.
It is run by a stern matriarch, Ma Bridges (Beulah Bondi), who lords it over her weak, alcoholic husband (Philip Tonge) and her bitter, unmarried daughter, Grace (Teresa Wright). The three sons squabble constantly. Staying at the ranch is a young neighbor, Gwen Williams (Diana Lynn), who is smitten with one of the sons, Harold (Tab Hunter).
But the arrogant Curt (Robert Mitchum) wants to take control of the ranch and take possession of Gwen too. During the winter, a black panther has been killing the cattle on the ranch. Curt and the third brother, the quiet Arthur (William Hopper), set out to kill the panther, but when Curt leaves to get more food, the cat kills Arthur.
The grief-stricken family blames Curt, who then sets out on his own to kill the beast.