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)
“I’ve seen dogs wouldn’t claim you for a son, Tate.”
Frederick Glidden wrote many Western novels, using the pen name of Luke Short, picking the name of an Old West gunman. As Hollywood tends to stray from the author’s works, studios acted differently with Short’s novels, sticking to them. Some of the finest examples are Ramrod (1947) and Vengeance Valley (1951). Yet of the motion pictures taken from the man’s novels, Blood On the Moon, based on Short’s Gunman’s Chance (Which is now published under the film’s title.), stands out.
The film was the second noir Western to star Mitchum, who’d made Pursued the previous year. To get the desired visual effect, cinematographer Nicolas Musraca, who’s shot the actor’s Out of the Past (1947) was hired. His work makes the star’s character nobler and Preston’s Tate all the more evil.
This was Wise’s first ‘A’ picture, and the man proceeded to helm features such as West Side Story, The Sound of Music and The Sand Pebbles, winning two Oscars and the AFI Life Achievement Award. While shooting the saloon fight, he had Mitchum and Preston do the scene without doubles. As a result, the director wound up with one of the most grueling cinematic fistfights, both of the actors being black and blue for several days.
Blood On the Moon is often considered to be Jim Garry’s redemption, but that isn’t so. The man’s looking for a fresh start, not a clean soul. When contacted by Tate, Jim knows the score, and understands what they’re doing is wrong. Yet he needs to make a living, and is confused about what to do. When things go too far, he can’t deal with it and breaks with his old comrade. By doing so, he proves his morality is far better than anyone save Amy has judged it to be.
Tate is one of the nastiest so-and-sos ever to grace the Western. He manipulates the woman who loves him, the smaller ranchers, and the army, all the while having them think he’s doing it for their own good. In actuality, the man is nothing more than a murderous carpetbagger who doesn’t give one iota if anyone is hurt–emotionally or physically–as a result of his actions.
Blood On the Moon gathered excellent reviews, doing well at the box office. Mitchum’s his usual stalwart self and Preston makes an excellent oily baddie. Bel Geddes shows a side of her we rarely were able to see while Thaxter makes you hurt for her. But Musraca’s the true star in this fabulous, forgotten Western.
J.M. Harrison is the author of “Ready When You Are, C.B.!” 98 Epic Films You Need to Watch