These three men of very different backgrounds end up working closely over a period of two months on a dubious stunt-ramp construction project out in the wilds of the West... Darwin Gallegos, a widower and 40-year foreman at the Rio Difficulto ranch, is the project manager, who decides perhaps too impetuously to hire two labourers loitering in Pocatello, Idaho, and bring them west to the canyon river site outside the ranch. Arthur Key is hugely built, has considerable experience constructing movie sets in L.A. and is fleeing tragedy back in California where his brother, Gary, a film stuntman, has been recently killed in an accident, leaving Key full of guilt for the affair he was conducting with Gary’s wife and eager to take on any work that allows him to forget the past. Ronnie Panelli is a hapless 19-year-old fresh out of juvenile jail for stealing cars, a former golf caddy who knows little about construction or roughing it and is constantly getting hurt through his inexperience on site.
Gradually, the men warm to the rigours of the work and each finds his speciality - Darwin is the chef, Ronnie the carpenter and Arthur the meticulous planner. Ronnie’s troubles include being punctured in the shoulder with a long splinter while they are setting telephone poles and embroiling himself romantically with a local girl.
The townies from Mercy get wind of the crew’s work and attempt to disrupt it, but this merely serves to bring the trio closer together. The increasing trust among the men engenders a heartfelt and healing friendship, especially for Arthur, whose filial protectiveness for Ronnie reflects the way he once cared for his younger brother. Flashbacks fill in Arthur's affair with Gary’s wife, and gradually each man opens up to the other - and themselves - inner turmoils long left unexpressed.
Despite past heartache there are moments of levity and camaraderie, especially in the older men's teasing of Ronnie over his attempts to woo a local girl; coupled with a sense of social freedom, or social isolation, that recalls Steinbeck's 'Tortilla Flat' mixed with a smattering of Hemingway's stoic machismo.
The conclusion, however, like the landscape and the relentless skies above, is harsh and grim and inevitable.
From Idaho and the Midwest, I take once again to the dusty highways and head across into the Mountain States area, and make the acquaintance of young farm hand Horace Hopper, part Paiute Indian, part Irish; whose inner demons lead him from a comfortable life on a ranch in Nevada to the city lights and brutal boxing rings of Tucson, Arizona.