The time is the late 19th century and there’s been a murder in the territory of New Mexico. Someone has gunned down Jim Matthews (Steve Welles) and store owner Manuel Alvarez (John Alonzo) has been arrested. Everyone in town says that Jim was fooling around with Manuel’s beautiful wife, Alicia (Lisa Montell). Manuel insists that he’s innocent but Jim was the brother of the town’s most powerful and richest land owner, Ben Matthews (Robert J. Wilke). Ben is already having a gallows built so that Manuel can be hanged in the town square and it doesn’t look like there’s anything that Sheriff John Millard (Alan Hale, Jr. — yes, the Skipper) can do to stop him.
However, Federal Judge Jonas Stone (Hugh Marlowe) is determined to make sure that Manuel gets a fair trial. When it becomes obvious that the Matthews family has no intention of letting that happen, Judge Stone launches his own investigation. Believing Manuel to be innocent, Stone knows that he has to find the real killer before the gallows are built and Manuel is lynched by the mob.
A low-budget western with a 61-minute running time, The Long Rope is a surprisingly adult western, one that comes out strongly and directly against both lynching and the town’s racism. With the Matthews family representing the brutal “old ways,” and Judge Stone representing a more enlightened and fair system of justice, it’s up to the town to decide who they will follow. Hugh Marlowe brings a lot of gravitas to his role as the stern but compassionate Judge Stone while Lisa Montell makes a strong impression as Manuel’s rebellious wife. Robert J. Wilke is an effective villain and even Alan Hale, Jr. gives a good performance once you stop thinking of him as being the Skipper.
One final note of interest: John A. Alonzo, who played Manuel in The Long Rope, went on to become an award-winning cinematographer. Among Alonzo’s credits, as a cinematographer: Harold and Maude, Chinatown, The Bad News Bears, Black Sunday, Scarface, Norma Rae, and Close Encounters of Third Kind.