Friday, September 19, 2014

THE SET-UP (1949)

Robert Wise, 1949
Starring: Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias

A washed up boxer past his prime, Stoker Thompson, is determined that one night he will win and change his fortunes. His wife, who can’t bear to see him beaten again, walks off her anxiety around the city. His manager, Tiny, has taken money from a local gangster, Little Boy, to guarantee that Stoker will lose the evening’s fight. Tiny is so confident that Stoker won’t win, that he’s neglected to mention the bet and the set-up, spelling doom.

Based on Joseph Moncure March’s epic poem about boxing and the sports underworld, The Set-Up is a rare boxing-noir film and is one of the finest boxing films ever made. Though it lacks some of the key noir tropes – the isolated antihero and the femme fatale – it has a pervasive atmosphere of gloom and defeat. Stoker is introduced as a defeated man. Even his loving wife doesn’t believe he will win and has obviously been hiding this from him for such a long time that she has reached a breaking point and – it is implied that this is for the first time in their marriage – she can’t bring herself to attend one of his fights. Noir regular Audrey Totter (The Unsuspected) is at her best here as Stoker’s genuinely concerned wife. The film occasionally cuts to her walking through the city (giving the action a break from the locker room, on occasion) and her sense of anxiety is a palpable undercurrent throughout The Set-Up.

Robert Ryan gives one of his best performances (which is saying a lot) as Stoker, a unique chance for him to play a good guy. The film adaptation strips away the poem’s racial issues (the boxer is black and deals with a variety of prejudice) and also removes the character’s moral ambiguities. Stoker is a decent guy, happily married, and hardworking, while the poem’s hero is a murkier fellow. It is perhaps Stoker’s good-hearted, honest nature and hard-working determination that makes the film so bitter sweet. It is obvious that he probably will win the fight with Tiger, a much younger boxer, but even if he wins, it’s a shallow victory.

Alan Baxter (Saboteur, Judgment at Nuremberg) is memorable as Little Boy, the film’s token bad guy. Little Boy is notable for not giving into the fit-throwing, scenery-chewing, or snappy dialogue of other movie mobsters from the period – thing James Cagney or Richard Widmark – but he’s quiet, with an icy resolve. Organized crime does not play a major role in the proceedings, and is little more than a useful plot element to insure that no matter what Stoker does, he will fail in some way.

One of the first films to make use of a “real time” structure, The Set-Up is incredibly tightly paced and not a moment of its running time (short at 70-some minutes) is wasted. Though much of the film takes place in the locker room, director Robert Wise turns it into a dynamic set where the grime and grittiness of the underworld boxing scene comes through, as do the personalities of the numerous hopeless, helpless boxers, men trying to make a name for themselves in a hostile world. Though I’m generally not a fan of boxing and find films about the sport particularly dull, the fight scene is gripping, despite the fact that it is shot close to the real duration of a boxing match, with excellent pacing and suspense. The film was also shot at the Hollywood Legion Stadium, incredibly famous for its boxers and star-studded audience.

The Set-Up comes highly recommended. It’s available on single-disc DVD or in the excellent Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 1 along with The Asphalt JungleGun Crazy, Murder My Sweet, and Out of the Past. Director Robert Wise had a long, varied career that includes everything from The Body Snatcher and The Haunting to West-Side Story and The Sound of Music. His work on The Set-Up is undeniably excellent and if you find most film noir too predictable, this moving, pensive work might just change your mind. It’s a true classic, thanks to Wise and what is maybe the best performance of Robert Ryan’s career, where he channels the spirit of post-war rage and violence into a character full of pathos and humanity.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

WHITE HEAT

Raoul Walsh, 1949
Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien

Cody Jarrett is the leader of a group of gangsters and suffers from intense headaches and psychotic episodes. He relies on his mother, “Ma,” and mostly ignores his spoiled, unfaithful wife, Verna. After Cody’s gang botches a train robbery, Cody cleverly turns himself in for a much more minor crime, which serves as his alibi and insures him far less jail time. While in prison, an undercover agent, Hank aka “Vic,” is put on Cody’s tail, because the D.A. is determined to catch him for the train robbery or another, new caper, and put him away for life. Cody and Vic bond, but the escape they have planned takes a new turn when Cody learns that Ma has been killed and he slips into a psychotic rage.

Based on a story by Virginia Kellogg, who also wrote the women-in-prison film Caged (1950), White Heat is rightly considered a crime film classic. James Cagney was towards the end of his career here, though he delivered one of his greatest performances as Cody, the maniacal, mother-loving psychopath. Cody was based loosely on the Barker family, two gangster brothers from the ‘30s with a famously domineering “Ma,” and on Francis Crowley. He had a shoot-out with the police and apparently said “Send my love to my mother,” just before his execution. But it is Cagney’s spirited, almost frighteningly intense portrayal that makes Cody three-dimensional, a cut above the generic toughies and gangsters flooding the market thanks to the run of film noir in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Cagney effectively crafted the charming, power hungry, unstable gangster character in The Public Enemy (1931) and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), and in The Roaring Twenties (1939), which he made with director Raoul Walsh. If any two men were suited to producing the last hurrah of the gangster film, it was certainly Cagney and Walsh. In addition to The Roaring Twenties and White Heat, he helmed another gangster-noir classic, High Sierra (1941), which starred Humphrey Bogart as a good-hearted gangster forced to go on the run.

White Heat is like a ‘30s gangster film bred with the post-war psychosis and nihilism of film noir. It contains many noir tropes, including the documentary-style cinematography influenced by German expressionism, location shooting in California, and the use of a femme fatale through Cody’s homicidal, two-timing wife Verna. But, thanks to Cagney and Walsh, Cody’s character is so unlike the standard noir anti-hero or villain. Cody is disturbingly psychotic – so much so that his performance and the constraints of the Production Code barely date the film – and his devotion to his mother is almost openly incestual. He sits on his mother’s lap and nurses from a glass of whiskey, while she lets him nibble some toast. She coddles him, but also takes part in his crimes. He goes on a rampage in the prison after learning of her death in what is surely one of the most physical and demanding performances of the ‘40s. He is responsible for the film’s few genuinely frightening moments, all of which remain a testament to his power as an actor.

There are some strong supporting performances. Obviously Margaret Wycherly (Sergeant York) is excellent as Ma and casts quite an impression over the film, even though she only has a few scenes. Virginia Mayo (The Best Years of Our Lives) is memorably sassy as Cody’s wife Verna, a woman who cares only for her own creature comforts. Edmond O’Brien (The Wild Bunch, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) nearly steals the film as Hank aka Vic, the brave undercover agent who is clearly a blueprint for later characters of a similar nature.

White Heat is available on DVD and comes highly recommended. If you’re going to see any ‘30s or ‘40s gangster film, this is at the top of the list. It was also hugely influence and it’s easy to pick out characters and scenes that would be borrowed for later films. For example, after White Heat, heist films would play a larger role in film noir with The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and others. The finale is downright apocalyptic and there isn’t much else like from the time period, with Cagney alone, at the top of the world, laughing maniacally as flames surround him.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

MOONRISE

Frank Borzage, 1948
Starring: Dane Clark, Gail Russell, Ethel Barrymore

The young Danny Hawkins is haunted by his family history: when he was just a baby, his father was hanged for murder. The locals have not let him forget this and he was ostracized and bullied for most of his life. One night, during a dance, he accidentally kills his long-time nemesis and, in a panic, hides the body in the swamp. He also happens to fall in love with the dead man’s girlfriend, Gilly. As their relationship develops, the body is found and Danny descends into a nightmarish world of guilt and paranoia, which culminates in him running from Ginny to hide in the swamps.

A fascinating mixture of grim realism and disturbing fantasy, there is nothing quite like Frank Borzage’s Moonrise. Though generally known as a director of romance and melodrama, he helmed this low budget production for Republic Pictures. Based on a novel by Theodore Strauss, this blend of melodrama, film noir, and Southern Gothic wasn’t appreciated in its day, but has since come to be regarded as something of a forgotten classic. Charles F. Haas's moody screenplay has touches of a fairytale about it and, unlike most film noir, has a hopeful, redemptive conclusion.

Dane Clark (Destination Tokyo) gives his best performance here as the oddly innocent and childlike Danny. The film’s mythic, fairytale quality largely resolves around his adventure that takes him through revenge, guilt, and madness, and towards emotional growth and spiritual redemption. His relationship with Gilly is inherently childish, at least at the beginning. They both have juvenile sounding nicknames (Danny, Gilly). They spend their time playing make believe in an old mansion and attending a carnival, where they ride a Ferris wheel. Gilly is an elementary school teacher, but constantly complains about the children; it is later implied that she isn’t mature enough to handle the responsibility. With Danny in particular, there is the sense that he does not mature into adulthood until he learns his true family history, turns himself in, and walks back to town “like a man.”

The swamp is also a stand-in for the typical enchanted forest setting of fairytales and it is during several trips here that Danny transforms away from his violent, impulsive, and future-less origins. His guardian angel, of sorts, is played by Rex Ingram, in one of film noir’s new non-stereotypical African American roles. Mose is depicted as wise, intelligent, and widely read (one character claims that he’s read every single book that’s ever been written). He’s kind to his dogs and knows the lay of the swamp. Though he is clearly at peace here, he explains to Danny that it’s a great evil to willingly separate yourself from other men. Danny also eventually finds his grandmother deep in the swamp. Played majestically (as always) by Ethel Barrymore, her maternal wisdom sets him straight and allows him to cast aside what he thought was a predetermined future of misery, violence, and death. Even the sheriff (played by Allyn Joslyn) is a voice of quirky, yet rational advice and deep philosophy that steadies the film’s nightmarish visuals.

The swamp setting is eerie, oneiric, and highly stylized. This is mainly due to the fact that Borzage shot on two sound stages to save time. The opening is particularly gripping and unsettling; a man’s feet march towards the gallows and he is hanged in silhouette, a young boy pretends to strangle himself to death, a child is viciously mocked by his classmates. John L. Russell's black and white cinematography (he later worked on Psycho) is claustrophobic, heavily shadowed, and clearly influenced by German expressionism. The rural, small town atmosphere is rare for film noir (some exceptions include The Red House and Nightmare Alley). Enhanced by the gloomy swamp and old Southern mansions crumbling into decay, Moonrise is an odd blend of realism – the kind scene at that time in poverty-focused films like Grapes of Wrath – and the kind of magical realism found in Night of the Hunter and hinted at in The Lost Weekend and Nightmare Alley.

Last but not least, Gail Russell is particularly excellent as Gilly and evokes the otherworldly air that made her such a success in The Uninvited a few years earlier and that would work in Night Has a Thousand Eyes, also in 1948. Clark and Russell have excellent charisma and their love scenes are believable, particularly the scene where they hide out in an abandoned mansion and pretend to dance at a gala ball. It is here that Gilly really falls in love with Danny and the somewhat fantastic, idyllic element of their love is made obvious.

Moonrise comes highly recommended. Unfortunately it isn’t available on DVD – I’d love to see a Blu-ray – but you can find it streaming online. Hopefully someone will rescue it from obscurity and clean up the print, because even if you aren’t as gripped by the story as I was, the visuals are some of the most amazing in all of late ‘40s cinema.

KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS

Norman Foster, 1948
Starring: Joan Fontaine, Burt Lancaster, Robert Newton

“Everybody’s against you, everybody!”

One night a former American soldier and prisoner of war, Bill, accidentally kills a man in a bar in England during a minor dispute. He runs from the scene and takes refuge in an open window, which happens to be the apartment of Jane, a nurse. Though at first afraid and suspicious, Bill begins to trust her and explains that the man’s death was accidental. Eventually, the two begin to strike up a relationship, though this is put on hold when Bill is arrested for another violent incident. Jane waits for him during the six months he’s in jail, and then gets him a job as a medical supply driver. Things are beginning to go well for them when Harry, a charming underworld thug, attempts to blackmail Bill.

Despite its incredibly lurid title and the presence of stars Burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine, Kiss the Blood off My Hands had largely been ignored by contemporary film noir fans, due to the fact that it isn’t available on DVD and is somewhat difficult to find for home viewing. That’s a real shame, because though this might not be a top-tier genre classic, it’s a doom-laden, worthwhile entry in the noir canon and takes a particularly interesting look at the aftereffects of the war. The shadow of war haunts the film, which is interestingly set in crumbling post-war London, in the process of being rebuilt, and is focused on a character trying to rebuild his life after years in a Nazi POW camp. The stereotypical noir protagonist, Bill is an antihero, an isolated man adrift in a hostile world stifled by feelings of guilt.

There are some wonderful scenes that crystalize Bill’s contrasting persona. He is physically and sexually attractive, but also tormented and menacing. Lancaster’s physicality works perfectly for the role – he was a circus performer before turning to acting – and his normally overwrought acting style fits with Bill’s unstable personality and sense of arrested development. Bill sums up the noir protagonist in the sense that he can best be described as the place where good intentions, bad luck, unfortunate decisions, and violence meet. He’s not inherently a bad guy, but fate seems to be ever working against him. This is easily one of Burt Lancaster’s best roles, where his ultimate angst and scenery chewing don’t feel too over the top. The film makes a lot of sense in hindsight, as his violent behavior, seeming blackouts, and lack of control fits within the realm of post-traumatic stress disorder.

He is largely a source of physical and sexual appeal and it’s easy to see why attracts the lonely, repressed Jane (Joan Fontaine of Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Suspicion). It’s difficult to accept that after Bill breaks into Jane’s home and holds her captive there during the night, a romance somehow develops between the two of them. But Kiss the Blood off My Hands – as the title may suggest – is steeped in a subtle sense of sadomasochism. In addition to their first meeting, where Bill breaks into her apartment, Bill and Jane’s first date essentially comes about because he stalks her through the city. They meet at the zoo where the sight of caged predators gives Bill a panic attack. Later, there is a scene in prison where Bill is relentlessly whipped with a cat o’nine tails. This sense of menacing sexual is enhanced by a scene in a train car, where man comes on to Jane and Bill later beats him. Finally, it culminates in Harry’s attempted rape of Jane, but she in turn penetrates him with a pair of scissors.

Speaking of Harry, British actor Robert Newton (Treasure Island) shines as the affable trickster trying to edge Bill into the underworld, who soon transforms into a convincingly malevolent force of evil. In many ways, Harry represents the state of the post-war world Bill and Jane inhabit. At first, he seems to be sympathetic, understanding, and helpful. His attempts to coerce Bill into crime are subtle and seem like rational acts – for how else will Bill find employment and make his way into the world? But this benign exterior is soon peeled away to reveal a force of violence, evil, and corruption. Harry engages in blackmail, prepares to steal medicine from sick children and, most surprisingly of all, attempts to rape Jane.

Kiss the Blood off My Hands comes highly recommended. Director Norman Foster delivers what is undoubtedly his masterpiece. Though he was also co-director of Orson Welles’s Journey into Fear, he primarily helmed action films like entries in the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto series, Davey Crockett and the River Pirate, The Mask of Zorro, and more. Welles’ occasional cinematography Russell Metty gives the film its menacing, shadowy visuals that are certainly one of the film’s high points. Last, but not least, is the wonderful score from Miklós Rózsa, which, as all his noir works (Double Indemnity, Spellbound, The Killers), is wonderful.

Monday, September 15, 2014

I WALK ALONE



Byron Haskin, 1948
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott, Wendell Corey

After Frankie Madison is released from 14 years in prison, he goes to see his old rum-runner partner Noll Turner, and learns that Noll has frozen him out and he won't get a share of Noll's successful nightclub business. Noll tries to distract Frankie with Noll's own singer girlfriend, Kay, who works at the nightclub. What Kay doesn't realize is that Noll is planning to marry a wealthy socialite behind her back in order to increase the fortune he's amassing. Frankie begins to see through Noll's schemes and tries to take half of the business by force, not realizing that Noll has cleverly tied everything in paperwork, fake corporations, and other financial tricks. Noll has Frankie badly beaten and framed for murder, which forces a showdown between the two men.

Based on the play Beggars Are Coming to Town by Theodore Reeves, this marks the first collaboration between actors Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, who were in a number of films together, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Douglas got his start in noir with films like The Strange Lover of Martha Ivers (1946) and Out of the Past (1947). I Walk Alone was only his fourth film role. He gives a solid performance as the slimy, charismatic, and duplicitous Noll, a man with humble origins as a bootlegger whose change of fortunes results in a nightclub. While Noll is a fairly standard character-type, Douglas has a few quirks, including his mounting obsession with money. Presumably, he is marrying the wealthy socialite – also a masochist – in order to insure that if his business fails, he'll have some financial security. A strange motivation for a supposedly assured, confident man. Unlike The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Out of the Past, or the later Ace in the Hole, I Walk Alone just doesn't offer enough in the way of script material for Douglas to shine.

Lancaster also got his start in noir with The Killers (1946) and Brute Force (1947). Similarly to Douglas, this was Lancaster's fifth film. Despite his powerful physical performances, Lancaster simply doesn't have the acting prowess of Douglas, which is more than evident with I Walk Alone's script. He is unable to carry the numerous melodramatic scenes and one in particular – where Douglas trips him up with miles of red tape and his response is to sit with his head in his hands – come across as a little ridiculous. He is somewhat tempered by Lizabeth Scott, another actress not quite as strong as her competition (such as Lauren Bacall or Barbara Stanwyck), though she's likable and memorable as Kay, a nightclub singer who first seems to be a femme fatale, but is really just a trusting romantic.

I Walk Alone is entertaining, but is not a film noir classic. It mostly suffers from a mediocre script and a sense of too little too late and potential that fizzles out. There are some nice performances – it's worth watching once for Douglas and Lancaster – and a few good scenes, but nothing about it is inspired or original. The confrontation between Douglas and Lancaster happens far too late in the film and a number of unraveling plot threads dissipate the building sense of tension and dread. Though I Walk Alone isn't available on DVD, you can rent it streaming on Amazon. It comes recommended only for die-hard fans of noir, Douglas, Lancaster, or Scott, who gives one of her most likable performances here.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

ACT OF VIOLENCE


Fred Zinnemann, 1948
Starring: Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh

Frank, a war hero, lives in suburban bliss with his wife and young son. While on a fishing trip with a neighbor, a former friend and war buddy, Joe Parkson, begins stalking him. Though Frank tells his wife that Joe is insane, damaged from his war experience, she eventually finds out the truth from Joe himself. He's there to kill Frank, because Frank betrayed Joe and their unit during the war, resulting in the deaths of numerous men and Joe's disfigured leg. Frank was a Nazi informer, trading the location of their escape tunnel for food. Frank won't call the police, but flees to L.A., where Joe chases him through the city with murder on his mind.


Director Frank Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity) made a number of films about the war and about soldiers trying to survive in postwar life: The Seventh Cross (1944) with Spencer Tracy, The Search (1948) with Montgomery Clift, and The Men (1950), featuring Marlon Brando in his debut role. Zinnemann's excellent war films are likely inspired by his personal history. He fled Austria in the late '30s, but his parents remained behind and eventually died in concentration camps. Perhaps as a result, Act of Violence is an inspired meditation on guilt, personal responsibility, and the numerous gray areas of human morality.

Based on a story by producer Collier Young (husband of the period's only female noir director and a regular actress in the genre, Ida Lupino), there is something unique about Act of Violence. There are numerous film noir efforts concerned with returning veterans coping with a post-war world and transitioning away from a life of violence: The Blue Dahlia, Crossfire, Cornered, Kiss the Blood off My Hands, The Woman on the Beach, and more. Act of Violence is made up of a successful blend of bleak melodrama, suspense, and two powerful performances that convincingly portray good men who are forced to make bad decisions and are pushed to their limits by violence. Both Joe and Frank are painted equally black and depicted as equally flawed. It is difficult to identify with one more than the other, leaving the film with no true protagonist.


This is certainly one of Robert Ryan's best roles, which is saying a lot considering that he was a regular noir fixture in films like Crossfire, Caught, The Set Up, Woman on the Beach, The Secret Fury, and others. His grizzled face and menacing demeanor are used perfectly at the film's opening, which lacks a credits sequence and cuts immediately to a sweaty, anxious, desperate-looking Joe acquiring a gun and heading out towards an obviously dark purpose. Van Heflin (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Possessed) is his opposite: an assured family man living in a Californian domestic paradise. His secret, cowardly side is soon revealed and it is obvious the men are on equal footing.


The film's female performances are nearly equal to Ryan and Heflin. A very young Janet Leigh is his sweet, adoring, and ultimately realistic wife who admits that she knows he is no longer a hero, but just a regular man full of the same base nature that comprises everyone. The unfortunately named Phyllis Thaxter (Blood on the Moon) plays a similar role as Joe's girlfriend, a desperate young woman trying to keep the man she loves from the brink of insanity, barbarity, and ruin. An aged Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon) nearly steals the film as a hardened prostitute past her prime, and there are memorable appearances from noir regulars Taylor Holmes (Nightmare Alley) as a lawyer of dubious morals, and Berry Kroeger (Cry of the City) as the enthusiastic murder-for-hire toughie.


Act of Violence is available on DVD as a double feature with Mystery Street and comes with the highest possible recommendation. Not a moment of the film is wasted and there are plenty of menacing moments where Van Heflin's terror is equalled by Robert Surtees' (Ben Hur, The Last Picture Show) mesmerizing cinematography. The exteriors of nighttime L.A. are breathtakingly beautiful and menacing in equal turns and provide a nice contrast to sunny suburbia. Through Zinnemann's excellent direction and Ryan and Heflin's performances, every setting becomes a place of terror, isolation, doom, and claustrophobia, from the picturesque lake to the rain-slicked city and Heflin's shadowy house.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

BLOOD ON THE MOON

Robert Wise, 1948
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Preston

Jim Garry, a wandering cowboy, comes across the Luftons, a family of ranchers bitterly protecting their land and cattle against Tate Riling, who just happens to be Garry’s closest friend. Though he initially begins working with Riling as something of a gunman and body guard, he soon begins to realize that Riling is developing a scheme to clean out the generally honest Luftons and though he would make quite a profit – and much to everyone’s surprise – Garry changes sides with predictably violent results.

Based on Gunman’s Chance by Luke Short, Blood on the Moon (what a title) is generally considered a psychological-western or western-noir, which is why I’ve included it with this series – plus Robert Wise is one of America’s finest directors and his films are always a delight. Loosely similar to 1947’s Pursued, another noir-themed western starring the ever-wonderful Robert Mitchum, Blood on the Moon is far darker than the typical western being released during this period. Mitchum is the perfect embodiment of the hard-boiled cowboy and the ease with which he expresses moral ambiguity works wonderfully for the film. Mostly, credit for the film’s success should go to cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, who turned the frontier into a place of night and shadow, claustrophobia, violence, and murky morality. Famous for his work on Out of the Past (also with Mitchum) and Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), a contender for first-ever film noir, Musuraca really stretched his legs with RKO and Val Lewton on Cat People (1942), where director Robert Wise also worked as an editor and later a director.

Wise, Musuraca, and art directors Albert D’Agostino and Walter Keller played up their noir/suspense strengths – all of them worked at RKO on horror films. Even composer Roy Webb was more experienced writing suspense scores (including Notorious, Out of the Past). Wise would later go on to direct outright noir with The Set-Up (1949) in the following year and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) at the end of the cycle. His strength as a director and his ability to pick a crack team is abundantly available here. Though sometimes lagging in pace, the film is a nice blend of masculine bravado, down-home family dynamics, more typical western scenes, and moments of explosive, realistic violence.

With themes of vengeance, violence, greed, and morality, Blood on the Moon is well worth a look for fans of both westerns and film noir. Robert Mitchum is captivating, as always, and basically carries the film himself with some help from Barbara Bel Geddes (Vertigo, Panic the Streets) as Amy, Garry’s rough-and-tumble love interest who first meets him by shooting at him in a rare, humorous scene. Garry, not one to make exceptions for the ladies, gives as good as he gets, of course. As with many other noir efforts, there is a complex relationship between two leading male characters, one that is often more involved than the protagonist and his love interest. Mitchum and Robert Preson (This Gun for Hire) have great charisma and immediately establish that Garry and Riling (Preston) are incredibly close and have often trusted each other with their lives. In something of a triangle between Amy and Riling, Garry is torn between living in a society made up masculine, power-driven greed and corruption (a typically noir world) or choosing domesticity, honesty, and integrity.

Shot in California and Arizona, the scenery is breathtaking, particularly the gritty fight sequences. There’s plenty of serious fighting and action, including a wonderful chase sequence through the mountains and a tougher, dirtier version of the standard gun battle. Garry and Riling’s close relationship make these fights particularly suspenseful, as it is soon established that Riling isn’t afraid of a few casualties in his path and, ultimately, both men shoot to kill.

Though it’s not available on DVD due to copyright issues, Blood on the Moon comes recommended thanks to the wonderful atmosphere, direction, and performances (one day I’ll figure out why Robert Mitchum is so charismatic and appealing). You can find it on TCM occasionally or streaming online. It had to compete with Howard Hawks’ superior Red River, also released that year, which is possibly why it’s overlooked, but it deserves a resurgence among fans of '40s and '50s cinema, film noir, westerns, Robert Wise, and, of course, Robert Mitchum.