Saturday, February 24, 2024

#2,947. Blood on the Moon (1948) - The Films of Robert Wise


Director Robert Wise infuses his 1948 western Blood on the Moon with a film noir sensibility, giving us a hero we barely know who sometimes does things that are less than heroic.

Invited by his old friend Tate Riling (Robert Preston), gunman Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) rides into town. Riling has come up with a scheme to cheat a local cattle owner, John Lufton (Tom Tully), by purchasing his herd for a fraction of what it’s worth. With the help of government agent Jake Pindalest (Frank Faylen), and Garry’s gun backing him up, Riling believes his dastardly plan will go off without a hitch

But Garry is none too pleased to be involved, and when he falls for Lufton’s daughter Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes), he figures he may be on the wrong side of this conflict.

Mitchum is perfectly subtle as Jim Garry, a guy we’re not too sure about at first. The fact that he’s friends with a scoundrel like Riling is enough to raise doubts about his character. But Mitchum plays Garry so close to the vest that, whether he’s helping Riling or working against him, we’re never quite sure what he’s thinking, or what he will do next.

Preston, on the other hand, plays his character with gusto to spare, and brimming with personality. Even when Riling is up to no good, including romancing Lufton’s other daughter Carol (Phyllis Thaxter) to get the upper hand on the cattleman, we can’t help but like the guy. It’s an interesting correlation: a hero we can never pin down and a villain we occasionally admire, and director Wise handles the dynamic between the two wonderfully, building to a tense showdown between the former pals that caps the story off in dramatic fashion.

Also good in support are Del Geddes as the tomboyish Amy and the great Walter Brennan as farmer Kris Barden, who also signs on to help Riling but has a change of heart.

Crisply directed by Wise and with the incredible cinematography of Nicholas Musuraca, who makes great use of the western landscape (including a handful of scenes shot in John Ford’s old stomping grounds: Utah’s Monument Valley), Blood on the Moon proves an entertaining blend of action and film noir, and features what may be one of Robert Mitchum’s most underappreciated performances. That alone makes it worth your time.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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