Both men play aging ex-lawmen whose time in the West has mostly moved on, leaving them behind. Neither as quick on the draw or as hardy in a fight as they once were, they find guarding a mining camp's gold is about the only work they can land. But one of the pair has taken a good hard look at future prospects and decided that he might do a sight better heisting the gold instead of guarding it, which puts the two old friends on a collision course. Caught in the middle are a young sidekick and a woman that the three men have rescued from her mining camp fiance who plans to "loan" her to his co-workers. Mariette Hartley, then 22 and in her first big-screen role, is the young woman, and Peckinpah regular Warren Oates is one of the creepy miners.
Scott and McCrea are quite obviously having the time of their lives, playing off some of their genre's stereotypes and their own screen personas. Sun and age give Scott a squint that looks like it could squeeze coal into diamonds, and McCrea's leathery twang is as Western as ol' Dollar and Gabby Hayes. Peckinpah would later explore some of the same themes in later films, but this is where he began telling stories of people who work to redefine themselves as the worlds around them change in way they don't quite understand, threatening to make the moral codes that have guided them for so long irrelevant. Ride the High Country got a crummy release and was pretty much ignored when it first came out, but Peckinpah's later fame (and weirdness) brought it the attention it deserved, both as the initial expressions of his own moviemaking philosophy and as a well-deserved curtain call for two icons of an American film genre.