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"Blood On the Moon" is one of those psychological westerns that emerged in
the late 40s. Director Robert Wise and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca
were both graduates of the Val Lewton film noire school of film making.
Photographed in the shadowy dark black and white common to film noire, this
picture turned out to be a better than average western.
The story has drifter Jim Gary (Robert Mitchum) riding into the middle of a dispute between cattleman Lufton (Tom Tully) and a group of homesteaders led by Tate Riling (Robert Preston). Riling has hatched a scheme unbeknownst together with Indian agent Pindalist (Frank Faylyn) to cheat Lufton out of his cattle and sell them to the army at a huge profit.
Gary is initially hired by Riling but soon sees how Riling is fooling the homesteaders and changes sides. Helping him make this decision is Lufton's daughter Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes) with whom he falls in love. Lufton's other daughter Carol (Phyllis Thaxter) meanwhile, is in love with Riling and betrays her father in the process. This all leads to the inevitable showdown at the end.
The photography is at times spectacular. The outdoor panoramas are breathtaking. However, it is somewhat marred by the cheap looking back projection shots (especially during the stampede sequence) and several "studio exteriors". There also is an excellent graphic fight scene involving Mitchum and Preston.
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.
The rest of the cast is comprised of many 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) in various smaller roles.
An good western; a good example of film noire.
This is perhaps the greatest of the noir westerns. Director Robert Wise
had been in charge of the mythical "The Curse of the Cat People," not a
sequel to the horror classic, "Cat People," as the studio expected,
rather a fantasy film highlighting the imagination of a little girl.
Working with darkness and shadows emphasizing the mood of the picture makes "Blood on the Moon" seem gloomy and pessimistic, but actually the film is more about the redemption of a hopelessly lost cowboy, Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum), who finds meaning in life through the love of a woman, also named Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes) as was the little girl in "The Curse of the Cat People." The opposite of Jim Garry is his so-called pal, Tate Riling (Robert Preston). Rather than redemption, Riling falls deeper and deeper into the maelstrom of depravity, murder, and deception. Even his romance with Amy's sister, Carol Lufton (Phyllis Thaxter), is a treacherous, deceitful one. Riling uses Carol for his advantage, at times against her own family, while she is truly in love with him. Riling has few redeeming qualities and is bad through and through. The relationship between the two, Riling had actually invited Garry to join him, knowing what an expert he was with a gun, is the crux of the film. The story about the feud between the homesteaders, pawns for Riling, and the ranchers is a superficial one. Character studies make the movie worthwhile.
Walter Brennan as Kris Barden, a homesteader fooled by Riling for awhile, has a pivotal role showing how Riling's double dealings and egomania eventually catch up with him and destroy him. "One may smile, and smile, and be a villain" only so long. Barden is a counterpart to Garry's character. Frank Faylen, as Indian agent Jake Pindalest, in collusion with Riling's schemes for self-aggrandizement, on the other hand represents a counterpart to Riling's character.
The title is one of the best ever for a western. Supersitition has it that when there is blood on the moon (a particular atmospheric appearance of the moon), it's a sign that someone is going to be killed. When I was a boy one of my friend's dads operated a movie theater. He had accumulated a closet full of movie posters over the years. One day he was cleaning out his closets and asked me if I wanted the old posters. I eagerly latched on to them. Two posters impressed me above all the others. One was " The Grapes of Wrath" poster; the other was the "Blood on the Moon" one. Something about those titles and the art work on the posters grabbed my mind and my imagination. I didn't get to see either film for many years, eventually seeing them on TV. To me the magic of the posters matched the magic of the movies.
Class A western with a great Robert Mitchum performance. Unlike other tall men riding in the films of that time, Mitchum's character is not a snow white hero coming to save the day,but a darkened figure just two steps from being an outlaw. Robert Preston is the charming,jovial wolf in a manner similar to Arthur Kennedy in Bend In the River and Robert Ryan's performance in The Naked Spur. Their epic brawl in an out of the way dingy saloon is one of the best movie fights ranking with John Wayne's and Randolph Scott's The Spoilers duel. Proves that RKO was for a time home to some true innovations in movie story telling. Mitchum's character will only go so far and thanks to Barbara Bel Geddes non Cathy turn as a frontier woman who gradually replaces her Calamity Jane-ish dress to become, seemingly, more domesticated in the manners of both typical western heroines and the mainstream movie going publics view of women after WWII ( Rosie the Riveter transforming into June Cleaver). The fact is though she isn't a screamer nor a corner huddler but equally as strong as Moody Bob. Great Western.
The concept of the "noir western" is unthinkable without Robert
Mitchum. Mitchum, who started his career as a heavy in B westerns and
went on to be hailed as the "soul of film noir" for his world-weary
cynicism and cool, doomed aura, defined the hybrid genre in 1947 with
PURSUED, then followed with BLOOD ON THE MOON. The plot is essential
noir: a man down on his luck is summoned by an old partner and cut in
on a big deal; when he finds out that the deal is crooked and his
friend is an irredeemable louse, he has to decide whether to accept his
slide into corruption or fight to maintain his honor. The scheme just
happens to involve cheating a man out of his cattle herd instead of
some urban racket. The cinematography is literal noir; at least half
the scenes take place at night, in a murk that rather obviously
symbolizes the difficulty of seeing anyone's true nature.
None of the western clichés are here: there are no rowdy dance-halls or rip-snorting brawls or comical drunks, no steely sheriffs or white-hatted good guys. The mood is somber, tense and ambiguous, but the film does satisfy the requirements for a western: there are cattle stampedes, a savage fight, a gun battle and beautiful sweeping landscapes, including stunning scenes in a snow-bound pass, the white drifts sliced by the tracks of men and horses. All of the performances are restrained and natural. Barbara Bel Geddes and Phyllis Thaxter, as the daughters of the cattle baron targeted by the scheme, both avoid the glossy glamour that so often makes actresses look out of place in westerns. Bel Geddes is appealingly fresh, and does a good job with a character who starts out as a hostile spitfire in pants (she and Mitchum "meet cute" by shooting at each other) and then morphs into a gentle healer in a dress. Robert Preston is perfect as Riling, a smirking cad with an oily face and a plaid jacket; his former partner Jim Garry (Mitchum) sums him up with the classic line, "I've seen dogs that wouldn't claim you for a son." Walter Brennan adds seasoning as usual, this time poignant rather than comic.
Mitchum makes a beautiful cowboy with his long hair and elegantly rugged attire, at once authentic (on seeing Mitch in costume Walter Brennan reportedly declared, "That is the goddamnedest realest cowboy I've ever seen!") and romantic. In one scene he confronts a gunman on a wide, dusty street and walks towards himthat's all he has to do, just walk towards him and the guy knows he's outclassed. (Mitchum's panther walk is one of the glories of cinemaI would love to watch a whole movie of nothing but Mitchum walking.) I don't think Jim Garry smiles once (though he comes close in a gentle scene where the heroine, tending to his injured hand, asks about his fight with Riling, and he answers, "It was a pleasure.") He conveys a profound inchoate sadness, but as always he uses dry humor to keep emotion at bay. He's contained, laconic, defended. Not merely stoic, he's strangely passive, willing to let things go; his strength is tinged with melancholy because he can "take it," but he also feels it. Lee Marvin (Mitchum's one-time co-star) said it well: "The beauty of that man. He's so still. He's moving. And yet he's not moving."
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. You never feel they are underwritten or inconsistent; instead you feel he's a whole and complex person who can never be fully explained. Despite his much publicized contempt for most of his work, Mitchum brings this tremendous gift to the slightest and shallowest of movies. BLOOD ON THE MOON, however, is worthy of him.
This film is a dark, brooding affair that has plenty of action and suspense and unfolds like an urban thriller. The story is lean and straightforward in its plot development of a range war, a staple of many westerns. Robert Mitchum is excellent as a drifting cowboy who gets caught in the middle of a feud between cattle ranchers and Barbara Bel Geddes matches him with her portrayal of a tough, feisty ranch girl. Robert Preston is also good as a rancher at odds with Tom Tully in their range war and there's a romantic angle that further complicates matters between the ranchers. The picture has crisp black and white camera work with noir shadings here and there and the music is also good. Of note in the film is a savage saloon brawl notable for its intensity, a brutal confrontation that ranks among the best in any western.
Blood On the Moon is a moody western drama from the late forties, adapted
from a Luke Short story, and directed by Robert Wise. Robert Mitchum plays
an itinerant copwpuncher who arrives in a ranching community in which he
discovers an old friend of his, played by Robert Preston, also resides, and
who turns out to be in the cattle rustling business. Since the locals are
suspicious of him in the first place, Mitchum seems unsure as to which side
This is a well-acted film but somewhat of a downer. A good deal of the action takes place at night or in darkened rooms. It's very noir in tone, though technically a western. Mitchum's laconic, somewhat enigmatic personality helps it along, as does Preston's amiable-seeming bad guy. Barbara Bel Geddes gives a good performance as the love interest; and such capable players as Charles McGraw, Tom Tully and Walter Brennan are on hand to spice things up. While the movie is quite accomplished in what it sets out to do, it strikes me as somewhat of an experiment that doesn't quite come off. The western is at its best a rousing genre, full of action and movement. This one has precious little of either.
"Blood on the Moon" is notable for two things: 1. It's unusual moodiness at a time when most westerns were "Lone Ranger" episodes warmed over 2. The unforgettable fight scene with the long-haired Robert Mitchum, undoubtedly an influence on the shooting of "Barfly" almost forty years later. If you enjoyed "Blod on the Moon," don't miss "Dead Man," another moody and intelligent western, as well as Robert Mitchum's final screen appearance.
Although RKO was a major studio, in the 1940s an unusually large
proportion of its output was low-budget B-movies. And not just any
B-movies psychological urban horrors from the Val Lewton unit, and
plenty of gritty thrillers of the type that would come to be known as
film noir. There was also a brisk trade in Westerns at all the studios,
and RKO was no exception, but perhaps no picture better demonstrates
that the studio was practically stuck in "noir" mode than the literally
dark Western Blood on the Moon.
Much of Blood on the Moon's bleak look is down to director of photography Nicholas Musuraca, who did the job on many of the Lewton horrors, including the seminal Cat People. Musuraca was quite capable of doing regular (and still very accomplished) cinematography take a look at I Remember Mama, for which he received his only Oscar nomination but his speciality was cloaking the screen in vast swathes of black. You would think this would be difficult in a Western, which ought to be full of vast empty plains and sunny skies. But Musuraca uses lighting techniques that can turn anything into a silhouette, or edges and corners into indistinct patches of darkness. He even makes clouds and buttes into foreboding black blobs. But he does not simply dim everything darker his craft is very precise, and he is capable of throwing sharp white light where it is needed, or creating layers of grey amidst the gloom. Incidentally, while this adds immensely to the atmosphere, it is also probably part of RKO's general trend of hiding the lack of lavishness on a cheap production. After all, who needs a big town set when all you can make out is a door frame and a hitching post? Musuraca's partner in crime is director Robert Wise, another graduate of the Lewton unit. Wise adds to the atmosphere by composing tightly framed shots with bits of scenery and foreground clutter obscuring chunks of the screen. And look at how much of the movement is in depth rather than across the screen. Often characters are moving straight towards us, virtually staring into the lens, and this adds to the aura of menace. Just like in a well-made film noir (as well as those Val Lewton horrors) the overall impression is of a surreal nightmare world from which there is no escape. That is quite an achievement in a Western.
Wise was also an expert at handling the pacing of his pictures, here shooting intense and nasty action sequences, spaced out by moody and measured dialogue scenes. This latter actually gives room for some nice acting performances. Robert Mitchum a man who made an art form out of laconic moodiness is perfect for those quieter moments. Like Humphrey Bogart, he was at first mistaken for a supporting player, but film noir gave him a niche as a leading man. Barbara Bel Geddes seems really cut out as Mitchum's tomboyish love interest. Active and assertive parts like the one she has here did not come up often for women in this era, and she gives it her all. Best of the bunch though is Walter Brennan, who looks and sounds like the typical crusty old man, and as such played a part in dozens of Westerns in his time. But under his character actor exterior he could emote beautifully, and in Blood on the Moon you really believe his mourning for his son.
What we have here isn't simply a case of Wise and Musurasca giving a mischievous murky makeover to a good ol' cowboy flick. It seems the project was in noir territory right from the outset. Lillie Hayward, who I don't recall seeing credited anywhere else, but seems to have done a top job, has really just given us a gritty PI thriller out West. Mitchum is not so much the iconic drifter and more a grudgingly moral gun for hire. There is little distinction between the cowpunchers and the homesteaders (although in any case these two groups tended to be fairly interchangeable as villains and heroes from one Western to another a bit like the North and South in Civil War movies). And interestingly this is one of the few pictures of this time to feature bona fide cowgirls, who shoot, talk and ride like the men. Parasols and petticoats are out of the question in this Western.
Leaving aside all social context and genre subversion, the most important question is surely, is it actually any good? The answer is yes. Blood on the Moon does what any decently made B-flick ought to do it is neither deep, moving or intelligent, but it gives a quick and reliable round of entertainment.
The novels of Luke Short paint a dark picture of the old west and
Hollywood has made good use of them in making some really good
westerns. Blood On The Moon is one of the best screen adaptations of
one of his stories.
A quick cursory glance of the films made from his stories, Ramrod, Ambush, Station West, Vengeance Valley, Coroner Creek all of them are pretty dark, almost noir like stories set in the old west. Blood On The Moon has Robert Mitchum as a cowboy sent for by his friend Robert Preston to be part of scheme to grab the herd of cattle baron Tom Tully.
Not that Preston wants to do a little honest rustling, no his is a complicated plan involving getting the small ranchers and homesteaders riled up against Tully and getting a small range war started. He's even seduced one of Tully's daughters, Phyllis Thaxter, into betraying her father with promises of love and undying affection.
All of this is a bit too much for Mitchum for whom it is alluded was quite the hellraiser in earlier times, but now is just sick of it all. Tully's other daughter Barbara Bel Geddes is checking him out if he would only break with Preston.
When discussing this film in his book about Robert Mitchum, Lee Server makes the point that this film was far from what RKO planned for its star. Originally Mitchum was to be the white hat cowboy hero and successor as its B picture western star when Tim Holt went off to World War II. Little did they dream at RKO back in 1944 when Mitchum made his first with top billing, Nevada that he would be in this kind of western and do it so successfully.
Preston had finished with his contract at Paramount and was now freelancing. We now know him primarily for The Music Man, but in his early film days he played many a villain and this one is a study in malevolence. His superficial charm even carries menace with it.
Blood On The Moon enters that list of really top notch westerns that were originally authored by Luke Short. Try not to miss it when broadcast.
The VHS video of this movie is a colorised version of the original thanks to Ted Turner. I refuse to watch it in colour, so I turn off the colour attributes of my TV and enjoy this movie in Black and White. Without the distraction of colour, one gets to enjoy a great story line, some wonderful performances by Robert Mitchum and Barbara Bel Geddes, and one of Robert Wise's directorial gems.
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