This atypical "family Western" tells a story that was probably more common on the frontier than every cinematic shootout ever filmed. Former lawman Big Jim Cole (Clint Walker, best known as TV's "Cheyenne") inherits his grandfather's small ranch and brings his family to settle on it. His first 24 hours in town aren't promising: he learns that the ranch was originally won from a powerful neighbor, Jed Curry (Keenan Wynn), who still covets it for his sons, Tad and Cal (Ron Ely, Sammy Jackson); he has to use almost all his savings to pay off a loan against it; 12-year-old son Charlie (Kevin Brodie) gets into a brawl with some local boys; five-year-old daughter Gypsy (Victoria Paige Meyerink) gets "skunked"; longtime deputy and friend Sam Potts (Don Haggerty) gets cheated out of $10 by the young Currys and their buddy Duke Squires (Med Flory); and the ranch turns out to be a near-ruin. But Jim is determined: this is good land, he says; with their purebred bull Duncan, he and his wife Angie (Martha Hyer) will raise "some good cattle and maybe ten or twelve more kids." Then comes full spring and the awakening of the neighborhood nemesis, a huge grizzly bear known as Old Satan ("If that beast ain't Lucifer himself he's sure his first cousin," says banker Cotton Benson (Regis Toomey), an early friend of the Coles). Satan's first visit to the Cole ranch results in a dead bull, the panicked flight of Sam's beloved mule Becky, and the injury of the family dog Solomon. Jim and Sam go hunting and manage to hurt and intimidate the animal, but as fall arrives he returns and wreaks even more havoc, not only against them but at other places in the valley. Now the cattlemen put a bounty on the bear, which draws hunter Cass Dowdy (Leo Gordon), formerly a deputy of Jim's, who bears him an old grudge and yearns to see him "busted, flat broke, and beat."
Much of the charm of the movie is in the picture of a close-knit family making a home for itself in a new land, and in the well-drawn, well-acted characters, including Hank (Jack Elam), the town loafer, Wilhelmina "Bill" Peterson (Nancy Kulp of "The Beverly Hillbillies"), who keeps the general store, and Hazel Squires (Ellen Corby), Duke's tiny, feisty mother. It's true that the "bear" in several of the close-ups is obviously a man in a bear suit, but there are also some impressive shots of a genuine grizzly, as well as some gorgeous trans-Divide Wyoming scenery and a generous helping of humor. While there's little man-vs.-man shooting (I won't say none), three fistfights provide some action, and the steadily rising tension between Jim and Angie as the stress tests their marriage, the threat of losing the ranch, and the looming menace of Dowdy keep the suspense going. This would be an excellent movie for "family night" viewing; it's been one of my favorites for over three decades.