Blood On the Moon (1948)

Directed by Robert Wise. Starring Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Preston, Frank Faylen and Walter Brennan as Kris Barden!

A shadowy noir-infused western soaked in adult themes and shady characters.

*SPOILERS* Robert Mitchum plays hired gunman "Jim Garry", called into town by his old friend to help him fellow homesteaders stand up to local cattle baron John Lufton (a wonderful Tom Tully). Jim comes to cross paths with Lufton's daughter, Amy (a fiery Barbara Bel Geddes). He eventually realizes that he not only has feelings for Amy, but that he was brought in under phony pretense by his slimy friend, Tate Riling (a fantastic bit of villainy by Robert Preston).

Walter Brennan plays one of the fellow homesteaders that early on is joined with Tate Riling in their quest against John Lufton. When a planned cattle raid goes awry, Brennan's son winds up dead. From that point on he realizes he was wrong, that he should have talked it out with Lufton instead of taking the cattle by force. He joins up with Jim and Amy, and along with Lufton they come up with a plan to stop Tate Riling. Frank Faylan pops up as one of Tate Riling's goons. In a great bit Mitchum tricks Faylen, leading him out into the middle of nowhere so he can't notify Riling that Mitchum switched sides.

Robert Wise directs BLOOD ON THE MOON like a fine film noir drenched in black and white. It opens during a rain storm at night and though much of it is shot on location a lot of it takes place at night. It has a somber tone and when Brennan's character loses his son it's ramification effects everyone's motivations, unlike the human fodder showcased in most oaters of the time.

Robert Mitchum plays the deep thinking brooding gun-for-hire to a "T". His presence as a cowboy fits just as comfortable as his roles in crime noir. The difference is strictly window dressing, the motivations and set-up are similar, the tone and atmosphere are also very similar. This movie looks forward to the more adult and psychological westerns that would be made in the following years, those of Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann. And especially that of Mitchum's own similar role in MAN WITH A GUN (1955).

If there is one complaint it's a goofy one, the film ends on too much of a happy note. The bad guy dies and in a throwaway line Amy's insinuates her and Jim will now be married, just like that. Jim shrugs and they practically skip into the sunset. After all the rain and dark nights it just doesn't sit right. I guess it was just a convention of westerns at the time. True film noir ends mostly in tragedy, in my opinion. Almost reaching the goal then losing it. But I still love this movie, Mitchum's Jim Garry earned his happy ending.


The Walking Hills (1949)

Directed by John Sturges. Starring Randolph Scott, Ella Raines, Arthur Kennedy and Edgar Buchanan as Old Willy!

Sturges assembles a great group of actors for this contemporary noir western taking place in then current times of 1949. The presence of Randolph Scott and Edgar Buchanan keep it firmly rooted in the genre but the whole approach is more adult and sinister than the B-movie programmers the stars were known for.

The movie opens on a group of people playing cards in the back room of a border town. Each character has a shady past that they are trying to run away from. When they discover the local folklore of buried treasure in the sand dunes may be true they decide to sneak into the Mexican desert at night and begin to dig. Eventually secrets, emotion and a sand storm threaten to tear everything apart.

Terrific looking black and white photography give this western a wonderful noir inspired look. Made before HANGMAN'S KNOT this truly seems like the first step Randolph Scott would take toward making a more mature western film, eventually coming to fruition in the movies he did with Budd Boetticher. At 78 minutes this is every bit as good, IMO.

Guitarist, singer, songwriter Josh White is on hand as part of the group of treasure hunters. White sings and plays guitar while they dig, when they eat and when they're just standing around at night. It's the perfect kind of blues that you need when you are in the middle of a desert digging for gold.



Ride Lonesome (1959)

Directed by Budd Boetticher, starring Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, Lee Van Cleef, and introducing James Coburn as Whit!

"A man could do that."

The apex of Budd Boetticher / Randolph Scott Ranown pictures. COMANCHE STATION (1960) may have come after and even though it's very good it just isn't as perfect as RIDE LONESOME. 

*SPOILERS* In RIDE LONESOME Randolph Scott plays "Ben Brigade", a man who captures Billy John (James Best), to use him to exact revenge on his brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) for killing his wife. Along the way he saves a woman, played by Karen Steele, from an Indian attack at the station she was working. Two outlaws tag along played wonderfully by Pernell Roberts and James Coburn in his big screen debut. They quickly discover Karen Steele's husband to be dead so all three join together to evade the Indians. Roberts and Coburn ride along in with the hopes of turning on Scott to use Billy John as their way of gaining amnesty.


The film opens on location amid the beautiful rocky hills of Lone Pine! Randolph is colder and more rugged than ever before. The loss of his wife has eaten away at him, he is a shell of a man hell bent on revenge. It's great! Karen Steele lights up the screen, the affection of every Indian Chief and outlaw around. She falls for Randolph but he is still grieving for his long lost wife. 

Once again the outlaws steal the show. Pernell Roberts and James Coburn are a riot. They are the heart and soul of this film. In the previous films 7 MEN FROM NOW and THE TALL T the outlaws are friendly with Scott but in the end he is forced to take them out. RIDE LONESOME switches that convention, this time allowing them to actually become friends and earn their happy ending. Their plan of double crossing Scott never has a chance to come to fruition. In the end Scott accepts his sadness and allows the two outlaws a chance of a better life, one that he can never have. The villains Billy John and his brother Frank played by Lee Van Cleef are easily dispatched by Scott. James Best is great as the weasely "Billy John", but if the movie has one fault it's the amount of screen time for Lee. It is much too short, his character could have used a touch more fleshing out. But that's a minor nitpick in an otherwise perfect film.


The Tall T (1957)

Directed by Budd Boetticher - starring Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Maureen O'Sullivan, Henry Silva and Skip Homeier (as Billy Jack)!

"Cherry Striped Candy."

With those words by "Pat Brennan" (Randolph Scott) a sunny tone is set, and for the first act the antics are kept humorous and light. Scott meets with a Station hand and his son and the young boy excitedly asks Scott if he could pick up some candy for him during his trip to town. Once in town Randolph rides a bull and loses his horse in a good-natured bet. Jumping into the drinking trough just to avoid getting gouged! Scott grabs his saddle sans horse and walks outta town. 

*SPOILERS* Along the way he hitches a ride from a newlywed couple played by John Hubbard and Maureen O'Sullivan, the daughter of a big-time ranch baron. The husband having only married O'Sullivan for her father's money. At the station they find out that the owner and the boy have been killed and their bodies dumped in the well by thieves played by Richard Boone, Henry Silva and Skip Homeier. The tone immediately shifts from light-hearted to grim and gritty. Eventually the husband attempts to make a deal that lets him leave to go to his father-in-law to bring back ransom money in exchange for his wife. He's really only doing to save himself and happily leaves his wife behind, leaving Scott to come up with a plan to save him and the wife. Patrick Boone's character begins to take a liking to Scott seeing him more as an equal than the two grunts he rides with. In the meantime sexual tension between Maureen O'Sullivan and Randolph Scott begins to rise.

Shot in Lone Pine!

Budd continues to get his low budget money's worth by filming in the rocky hills of the wonderful Lone Pine location. Once settled in the story mostly takes place in a small area, the cave where they are keeping Scott and O'Sulivan captive and outside the cave where the bandits have a small camp set up. It's so simple it could practically work as a stage play. It's all framed up beautifully.

THE TALL T is adapted from the original story "The Captives" by Elmore Leonard and it builds on the template of 7 MEN FROM NOW providing Randolph Scott with a wife of a weak willed man to fall in love with, and ultimately save the day for. Maureen O'Sullivan is understated in her performance as the plain looking wife who is eventually brought out of her shell by the sexual energy between her and Randolph.

The villains all continue to shine, all three character actors feel like a real danger yet at the same time enough back story is given to keep them from being one-dimensional goons. Again you can almost see Scott and Boone being friends had things been different. Henry Silva is a riot as usual, just completely chewing up the scenery. Skip Homeier is great as the dim-witted Billy Jack, Skip also appears later in Budd's COMANCHE STATION (1960) to great effect.

At 78 minutes it's a great short B-movie western, it doesn't get any better than this.


Seven Men from Now (1956)

Directed by Budd Boetticher - starring Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin and Walter Reed

Randolph Scott plays 'Ben Stride', a sheriff whose wife was killed during a Wells Fargo robbery. He's in pursuit of the thieves and their loot when he happens across a troubled married couple (Gail Russell and Walter Reed). He helps them get their wagon unstuck from the mud and in the process begins to find himself drawn to the wife.

The three eventually meet up with Lee Marvin, who's in pursuit of the stolen loot. He knows Scott's history and who he really is, he also picks up the attraction Scott has for Russell and begins to make things unbelievably uncomfortable for the two of them, and her milquetoast husband.


This is the film that kickstarted the Ranown film cycle, the collaborations between Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott. And also Burt Kennedy, who is as equally an important part of the formula. This movie and the films that followed changed the landscape. They were westerns that weren't just about cowboys and Indians, but rather they were about characters and relationships. They were about our flaws and imperfections. The villains weren't always so bad and the heroes had issues. Budd had small budgets but the look of these films are all first class, shot on location in LONE PINE, the setting ties them together giving them a kind of visual continuity.


Randolph Scott is great, playing a less smiley character than usual and more of a tortured soul. Gail Russell is the perfect Budd/Scott love interest. Karen Steele may have more pin-up girl appeal, but Gail has a magnetic charged sexuality. Her sap of a husband is admirably played by Walter Reed. It's a thankless role but he really sells himself as a fish out of water in over his head in this new frontier full of men who know how to take charge and survive.

But it's Lee Marvin who steals the show as a sketchy foil for Scott who is after the stolen loot. The screen can barely contain him. From the moment he steps into frame he oozes charm. You'd wish he was friends with Scott instead off being at odds with him, a theme that runs through the best Boetticher /Scott collaborations (The Tall T, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station).