Blood on the Moon
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France released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Mono ), French ( Subtitles ), SPECIAL FEATURES: Black & White, Interactive Menu, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: When a shady-looking stranger rides into town to join his old friend it is assumed he is a hired gun. But as the new man comes to realise the unlawful nature of his buddy's business and the way the homesteaders are being used, the two men draw apart to become sworn enemies. ...Blood on the Moon
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Effective and tightly crafted Western that has garnered many favourable remarks, due in the main to its ability to veer away from formula suggested by the plot and the technical film noir touches brought about by the great Musuraca. With Mitchum turning in one of his great screen dominating performances, film is driven forward by the psychological aspects brought about by thematics such as duplicity, split loyalties and moral quandaries. Director Wise does a good job of pacing the film, keeping it on the slow burn whilst dialling into Jim Garry's mindset, and picture is further boosted by a great knuckle fight and a rip-roaring siege shoot out at the end. But it's the mood created by Musuraca and Wise that is the real winner. With the film set 90% at night or in darkened rooms, shadow play is high and an oppressive feel adds weight to the psychological clocks ticking away in the narrative. In support of Mitchum, Geddes does spunky cowgirl well, while the presence of Brennan, Faylen and the gravel voiced McGraw is keenly felt.
Good story, well acted and visually potent. 7/10
Director Robert Wise had previously made Curse Of The Cat People (1944) for Val Lewton, and would also helm Lady Of Deceit (1947), and The Set-Up (1949), respectively just before and after Blood On The Moon, so was already at home with the way of noir. He'd also been associated with Orson Welles - having been brought in to infamously 'finish off' The Magnificent Ambersons - and this influence can be seen in Blood On The Moon, especially in the saloon interiors, with their low angles and prominent low ceilings.
Wise's 1948 western stars noir icon Robert Mitchum as Jim Garry, a man with a suitably dubious past, sent for by former friend Tate Riling (Preston Foster) to take partnership in a grazing rights scam and to provide a strong arm for $10,000. Riling hopes to secure payment for a lucrative army cattle contract while convincing local farmers that his intentions are strictly honourable, and running off the current suppliers. At first Garry grudgingly goes along with the plan but then realises that he is not comfortable with matters, all the while growing a romantic interest in Amy Lufton (Barbara Bel Geddes) the daughter of one of the cattle farmers.
For my money, Blood On The Moon, while an excellent film, is not quite on the same level as the two other noir westerns mentioned above, having none of the haunting psychologies of Pursued (also starring Mitchum), nor the fatalism of Colorado Territory. But there are still many pleasures to be had here, not least a strong supporting cast that includes Walter Brennan and Charles McGraw as well as a splendidly duplicitous Foster who, in dark parallel of Garry's slow romance of Amy, feigns a love interest in her sister to oil along his malign plans.
Ultimately, it is Garry's realisation of his erstwhile partner's slipperiness which turns him against him, as he discovers "I've seen dogs who wouldn't take you for a son." But it is Mitchum's marvellous playing of a man with the troublesome "conscience blowing down his neck," that's at the centre of the film, as he turns from hesitant moral acquiescence to doubt, onto guilt, into action. As others have remarked, Mitchum's characteristic 'stillness' as a noir actor, whereby he characteristically says or expresses little, but nevertheless suggests inner turmoil, is shown at its best here. Such depth and moral equivocation would (his complex performance in Red River the year before, notwithstanding) probably have been beyond the range of a John Wayne.
I mention Wayne, particularly, since there is an interesting similarity between Blood On The Moon and Hawks' Eldorado, made a decade and half later. In both movies a gunfighter arrives by way of summons into a middle of dispute, and is bushwhacked by a woman for his pains. In the later movie Wayne's character makes a clear decision right away not to join one side before siding with the other. In Wise's work, Garry's process of realignment is much more slow and painful, but because of it, more human. And whereas Wayne enters the drama bolt upright on his horse, proud in his own self-esteem, we first see Garry caught in the rain, at night, bedding down within cluttered trees, streams and undergrowth - the uncomfortableness of which reflects the confusions in which he finds himself.
The Odeon disc seen by this reviewer presents the film with no extras and in a soft picture - not ideal given the original, sharp, expressionist cinematography. There's occasional print damage too, but this is not distracting. But at its modest price, if you haven't yet caught it on TV, this DVD release can still be recommended.
Directed by Robert Wise
Mitchum is excellent as the brooding drifter with a conscience. Preston makes a despicable villain using all around him to attain his goals. Bel Geddes is good as the heroine but Thaxter takes the female honors as the gullible sister.
Mitchum is mesmerizing because you sense so much going on behind the cool, impassive facade. It's partly his film-style acting, which happens under the surface, not on the surface. But under-acting can't fully account for his mystery. There's something fundamentally inaccessible, unknowable about Mitchum's characters, and this is what makes them so real.
Completing the cast are wonderful character actors and familiar faces to western fans. Walter Brennan, Charles McGraw and Zon Murray play various homesteaders, Bud Osborne is Tully's trail foreman, Clifton Young and Tom Tyler play Preston's gunslingers and Richard Powers (aka Tom Keene) plays Tully's ranch foreman. If you watch closely you'll also see Harry Carey Jr., Iron Eyes Cody, Chris Pin-Martin and Hal Talliaferro (aka Wally Wales) filling in the smaller roles.
Fans of Robert Mitchum's noir catalogue will be aware that this western noir has a "companion piece" namely Pursued (1947)
From the novel by Luke Short - he also wrote Ramrod (1947), Station West (1948), Coroner Creek (1948), Albuquerque (1948), Ambush (1950), Ride the Man Down (1952) & Hell's Outpost (1954)
1. Robert Wise (Director)
Date of Birth: 10 September 1914 - Winchester, Indiana
Date of Death: 14 September 2005 - Los Angeles, California
2. Robert Mitchum
Date of Birth: 6 August 1917 - Bridgeport, Connecticut
Date of Death: 1 July 1997 - Santa Barbara, California
3. Barbara Bel Geddes
Date of Birth: 31 October 1922 - New York City, New York
Date of Death: 8 August 2005 - Northeast Harbor, Maine
4. Robert Preston [aka: Robert Preston Meservey]
Date of Birth: 8 June 1918 - Newton Highlands, Massachusetts
Date of Death: 21 March 1987 - Montecito, California
5. Walter Brennan
Date of Birth: 25 July 1894 - Swampscott, Massachusetts
Date of Death: 21 September 1974 - Oxnard, California
6. Phyllis Thaxter [aka: Phyllis St. Felix Thaxter]
Date of Birth: 20 November 1921 - Portland, Maine
Date of Death: Unknown
Mr. Jim's Ratings:
Quality of Picture & Sound: 5 Stars
Performance: 5 Stars
Story & Screenplay: 5 Stars
Overall: 5 Stars [Original Music, Cinematography & Film Editing]
Total Time: 88 min on DVD/VHS ~ RKO Radio Pictures ~ (March 24, 1993)
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