Jeb Rand (Robert Mitchum) is pursued by vague memories of his youth and a life plagued with doubts and nightmares. He is also pursued by Grant Callum (Dean Jagger) who, for reasons of his own, wants to kill "the last of the Rands."
Mrs. Callum (Judith Anderson) is "Mother Callum" to Jeb. She has been his mother since taking the orphan into her home to be raised with her son Adam (John Rodney) and daughter Thor (Teresa Wright). She knows every detail of the dark past that has dogged Jeb but refuses to divulge what might ease his mind. Jeb understands her advice to live in the future. Yet he knows he must also live with the past.
Novelist (The Furies) and screenwriter (The Postman Always Rings Twice) Niven Busch's original screenplay for Pursued concerns a feud between the Callums and the Rands. It is a feud based on betrayal and bloodshed and rightly belongs to the generation who wrought it. Nonetheless, when but a word would change destinies, young Jeb is forced to bear the weight of the older quarrel.
Directed by Raoul Walsh (Colorado Territory), the film plays out at a deliberate pace as Jeb relates the life that seemed such a torturous trail but led back to his beginning and end. The glorious black and white cinematography by James Wong Howe (Kings Row) gives us outdoor vistas filmed in New Mexico as haunted a feel as the shadowy alleys and dangerous night times. Max Steiner's (Mildred Pierce) score underscores the melodrama of the fateful Gothic-like film noir.
Our young lovers, Thor and Jeb never had a chance to find their own way as, like puppets, they were forced to play out the hate of the past. Even the lighter moments where we see what the family could have been when Mitchum and John Rodney as Jeb and Adam harmonize on The Londonderry Air have an underlying tension. We also get the pleasure of hearing Mitchum sing The Streets of Laredo as he rides along, but that moment will be stopped short by gunfire.
Pursued feels somewhat deficient in motivation for me, but it is in the noirish telling of the story where the movie finds its footing and its audience. Look for perhaps one of the best jury deliberation scenes in a movie. Ian Wolfe is the coroner/foreman and the gentlemen do not waste their time nor mince their words. Other welcome, familiar faces are Alan Hale and Harry Carey Jr.
Note: Leading lady Teresa Wright was married to screenwriter Niven Busch from 1942-1952.
Note: Teresa Wright was Robert Mitchum's sweetheart in Pursued. Seven years later she would be his spinster sister in William Wellman's Track of the Cat, 1954.
Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) is an honest, but down-on-his-luck cowpoke from Texas. He has answered the call of his former partner Tate Riling (Robert Preston) for a job that means big money. Through encounters with a rancher, witnessing a betrayal, and learning first-hand of Riling's dealings, Garry discovers he is on the wrong side of a stacked game. He breaks from his friend, facing doubt from those he would help and danger from those he would harm.
Amy Lufton (Barbara Bel Geddes) is the daughter of a rancher at the centre of Riling's crime. She is quick to judgment and stubborn. She is just as honest about reversing her initial bad opinion of Jim Garry. She sees his hidden heart and falls for the lonely man. Carol Lufton (Phyllis Thaxter) impulsively lacks the discernment of her younger sister. She has believed lies from Tate Riling.
Blood on the Moon was the first western, of only two * (Tribute to a Bad Man) directed by Robert Wise. The former editor had a superb eye for composition and his movies to this point were mainly crime pictures with a noir attitude (The Body Snatcher) or deeply film noir (Born to Kill).
Note: When balancing the western vs. noir aspects of Blood on the Moon it comes down to one side of the scale (noir-western) holding the art of Nicholas Musaraca and the vision of director Robert Wise, while the other side (western-noir) has Tom Tyler, Tom Keene, and two cattle stampedes. You decide.