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.

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