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Blood on the Moon (1948)

Passed | | Western | 21 November 1948 (USA)
Unemployed cowhand Jim Garry is hired by his dishonest friend Tate Riling as muscle in a dispute between homesteaders and cattleman John Lufton.


Robert Wise


Lillie Hayward (screenplay), Harold Shumate (adaptation) | 2 more credits »


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Complete credited cast:
Robert Mitchum ... Jim Garry
Barbara Bel Geddes ... Amy Lufton
Robert Preston ... Tate Riling
Walter Brennan ... Kris Barden
Phyllis Thaxter ... Carol Lufton
Frank Faylen ... Jake Pindalest
Tom Tully ... John Lufton
Charles McGraw ... Milo Sweet
Clifton Young Clifton Young ... Joe Shotten
Tom Tyler ... Frank Reardon
George Cooper ... Fred Barden
Tom Keene ... Ted Elser (as Richard Powers)
Bud Osborne ... Cap Willis
Zon Murray ... Nels Titterton
Robert Bray ... Bart Daniels


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. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


BLOOD RUNS FREE...(original 11x14 Lobby Card - all caps) See more »




Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

21 November 1948 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Nacht in der Prärie See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Early in the film, there is gunfire exchanged between Jim Garry and Amy Lufton. Jim fires his rifle 13 times without reloading. While it may seem this would not be possible, because of the size of the cartridges used on the Winchester Model 73, the magazine could hold between 15 and 20 rounds. See more »


Jim Garry: Shotten, Reardon, and me. Hired gunmen.
Tate Riling: Shotten and Reardon get paid in gold eagles. You get paid in thousands.
Jim Garry: Yeah. Only difference between us is the price.
See more »


Featured in 100 Years of the Hollywood Western (1994) See more »

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User Reviews

"No law says a man has to go by the wagon road"
11 November 2009 | by Steffi_PSee all my reviews

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.

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