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|Kirk Douglas||Chuck Tatum|
|Jan Sterling||Lorraine Minosa|
|Robert Arthur||Herbie Cook|
|Porter Hall||Jacob Q. Boot|
|Frank Cady||Mr. Federber|
|Richard Benedict||Leo Minosa|
|Ray Teal||Sheriff Gus Kretzer|
|John Berkes||Papa Minosa|
|Frances Dominguez||Mama Minosa|
|Gene Evans||Deputy Sheriff|
|Frank Jaquet||Sam Smollett|
|Harry Harvey||Dr. Hilton|
|Bob Bumpas||Radio Announcer|
|Geraldine Hall||Nellie Federber|
|Hal Pereira||Art Direction|
|Arthur P. Schmidt||Editor|
|Hugo Friedhofer||Original Music Composer|
|A. Earl Hedrick||Art Direction|
Chuck Tatum is a fiercely ambitious, self-centered, wisecracking, down-on-his-luck reporter who has worked his way down the ladder. He has come west to New Mexico from New York City, along the way being fired from eleven newspapers for slander, adultery, and heavy drinking, among other charges. Now that his car has broken down and Tatum is broke, he talks his way into a reporting job for the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin, a paper of little consequence.
Tatum stays sober and works there uneventfully for a year. Then while unhappily on assignment to cover a rattlesnake hunt, he learns about Leo Minosa, a local man who has become trapped in a cave collapse while gathering ancient Indian artifacts.
Sensing a golden opportunity, Tatum manipulates the rescue effort, convincing an unscrupulous sheriff to pressure the construction contractor charged with the rescue into drilling from above, rather than shoring up the existing passages, so that Tatum can prolong his stay on the front pages of newspapers nationwide.
Lorraine, the victim's wife, goes along with the reporter's scheme. She is eager to leave Leo and their struggling business in the middle of nowhere, a combination trading post and restaurant. Thanks to the publicity Tatum generates, she experiences a financial windfall, particularly from thousands of tourists who come to witness the rescue.
Herbie Cook, the newspaper's young photographer, slowly loses his idealism as he follows Tatum's lead and envisions himself selling pictures to Look or Life. The editor of the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin tries to talk some sense into his employees, but Tatum quits on the spot, having sold the exclusive rights to his copy to a New York editor for a lot of money and, more importantly, his old job back.
Thousands flock to the town. The rescue site literally becomes a carnival, with rides, entertainment, songs about Leo, even games of chance. Tatum begins drinking again. He takes up with Lorraine and is greeted heroically by the crowd each time he returns from visiting poor Leo in the cave.
After five days of drilling, the party atmosphere ends abruptly. Upon learning that Leo is fading fast, Tatum belatedly tries to get the contractor to switch back to the quicker procedure of shoring up the walls of the cave, but the vibration from drilling has made this impossible. Leo dies.
Tatum has mistreated Leo's wife once too often as well, and she stabs him with a pair of scissors. Tatum barely reaches his old office in Albuquerque, then collapses on the floor as he is about to reveal a big story: how he caused Leo's death.