Monday, February 8, 2021

MITCHUM RIDES A DARK RANGE: Pursued, 1947 and Blood on the Moon, 1948


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.

Robert Mitchum, Dean Jagger

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.

Robert Mitchum, Teresa Wright

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.



Blood on the Moon is a tale of crooked deals, guns-for-hire, deceit, whims, stubbornness, and being true to oneself. Based on Luke Short's 1941 novel also known as Gunman's Chance, Short adapted the screenplay which was written by Lillie Hayward (Smoky). 

Robert Mitchum, Robert Preston

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.
Phyllis Thaxter, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Keene

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). 

Cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, RKO's painter of light, gives Blood on the Moon its foot in the film noir world. The filming of the rain-soaked night scenes, a brutal beating in a low ceilinged saloon, the tension-filled battle with hidden adversaries is beautiful to behold in its artistry and provides the kick in the gut feel of film noir. Location filming in Arizona enhanced the feel of the character's attachment to the land.

The performances feel perfectly attuned to the storytelling. Featured actors are right at home in westerns, Walter Brennan (Red River), Tom Tully (The Virginian), and Harry Carey Jr. (Pursued). Charles McGraw as one of Riling's henchmen will soon make a great mark in film noir (The Narrow Margin).


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.


* Amended: that should read three westerns to include Two Flags West, 1950 as clarified by Colin McGuigan of Riding the High Country












28 comments:

  1. Some of the movies that I've seen DEAN JAGGER in are the westerns DAY OF THE EVIL GUN (with GLENN FORD) and the downbeat FIRECREEK(with JIMMY STEWART and HENRY FONDA). Jagger played the storekeeper and I remember the scene where BROOKE BUNDY's character comes in to buy a dress and tells him not to tell her mother. Her mother was played by LOUISE LATHAM.

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    1. Firecreek is such a depressing drama. If I have a choice, I prefer young Dean Jagger in Western Union, Oscar-winning Dean Jagger in Twelve O'Clock High, and philosophical Dean Jagger in Bad Day at Black Rock.

      Of course, Louise Latham is always wonderful.

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  2. Many of my favorite Mitchum movies are his early ones, such the two you review here. Raoul Walsh is an underrated director, who never gets mentioned in the same breath as Ford or Peckinpah. But Walsh directed several fine Westerns and seemed to have an innate understanding of the genre. As for Robert Wise, was there a more versatile director in Hollywood? He seemed to have a knack for mastering any genre!

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    1. I so agree about Walsh. So many of my favourite movies came from his sure hand.

      If given the opportunity, I believe I would bow before Robert Wise, the master.

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  3. Interesting, the debate about noir, whether it's genre, style, or 'mood'. Maybe these 2 films would be a hybrid, western-noir genre? Though I tend to see them as noirs that are done out west, with western trappings (eg, cattle stampedes). Just as there are noirs that are done in 19th-century urban settings (eg, So Evil, My Love). It's probably why noir is so hard to pin down!

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    1. I tend to fall in the "style/mood" camp when it comes to noir. I used to find myself having conversations about noir and wondering why a specific movie was mentioned because it wasn't one of "my" noir. Life is a lot easier accepting that other people were probably looking at me as if I were cock-eyed too.

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  4. Paddy Lee, I take it that you liked BLOOD ON THE MOON more than PURSUED. I probably lean toward BOOD ON THE MOON myself. Also, I really like the novel written by Frederick D. Glidden(Luke Short), it is good source material for the movie. Luke Short wrote several novels that were adapted for the movies. RAMROD(1947), STATION WEST(1948), and CORONER CREEK(1948), to name just three.

    As a youngster in the 1960's, when not working, mine eyes were somewhat glued to the TV screen. Viewing what are now considered Hollywood Classic Movies and maybe not so classic ones. I watched and took in a lot of the, so to speak, darker side of the human condition movies like STREET OF CHANCE(1942), DOUBLE INDEMNITY(1944), THE LOST WEEKEND(1945), DECOY(1946), OUT OF THE PAST(1947), THE RED HOUSE(1947) and THE NARROW MARGIN(1952) to just name a few. These and many more I saw on the local and network channels and, if my memory serves me right, nobody was calling them "Film Noir." They were called Crime, Detective, Suspense, Thriller, Horror, and Drama Movies. I never ran across the term until I was an adult, but the term 'Noir" had been used by Italian-born French film critic Nino Frank to describe 1940's USA crime drama movies that he viewed during the Summer of 1946. Frank's "A New Police Genre: The Criminal Adventure" was published in the socialist-leaning movie magazine THE FRENCH SCREEN in August, 1946. Earlier, in the late 1930's, the term "Noir" had been used to refer to some dark French movies. Anyway, Frank called these movies from the USA "crime psychology films."

    The debate over what is, or isn't "Noir" will be batted back and forth until the femme and homme fatales come home. Personally, I also tend to fall in the "style/mood" camp. It looks like too me, there are numerous varieties of stories out there that can be told that are "Noirish."

    Well, I think I've rambled enough. Margot Shelby could do much better here. Paddy Lee stay safe and well.

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    1. "The debate over what is, or isn't "Noir" will be batted back and forth until the femme and homme fatales come home." Thanks for brightening my morning with this chuckle, and for the interesting look at the history of "noir." Like you, I watched these films as a youngster. The Big Combo probably came into my life too early and I despaired of becoming an adult. Theirs was another world.

      I enjoy reading my westerns as much as watching them, and Luke Short's stories are at the top of the list.

      Please come here and ramble at will. Stay well and happy.

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    2. Paddy Lee, the rambler returns. Your write-up has triggered some other memories. Back in the day and later day, I watched a local PBS station's THE GOODTIMES PICTURE SHOW hosted by Ray Nielsen. The show was aired on Saturday from 1976-98. Classic movies were shown and Ray Nielsen would conduct a telephone interview with someone connected with the movie. He interviewed Robert Mitchum four times and they were good. Maureen O'Hara gave the most interviews. Ray would send her VHS tapes of movies she hadn't seen in years. She told Ray that she had to buy a VHS recorder to view them. Ray did more than 1,000 interviews over the years.

      Back to Noir. After the airing of THE NARROW MARGIN(filmed 1950, released 1952) Ray conducted an interview with Marie Windsor. She seemed to be amused about the idea of "Noir" and she said that she thought at the time(1940's and '50's) that they were just making small budget detective stories. Robert Mitchum, in one interview, commenting on the low budgets of these "Noir' movies, said that, "Yes, the budgets were so small that the lighting was done with cigarettes."

      Stay safe and well.

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    3. Walter, your PBS movie with host and interviewer puts me in mind of TVOntario (public TV) and the wonderful Saturday Night at the Movies hosted by former teacher Elwy Yost. A double bill of commercial free, uncut classic movies accompanied by interviews with historians, crew, and cast. The show ran from 1974 to 2012. Elwy retired in 1999 and passed away in 2011.

      Back to Noir. In an interview with Elwy, Edward Dmytryk said the lighting wasn't the result of art, but of budget. I think he may be slightly disingenuous, even the dictates of budget can't negate creativity.

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    4. Paddy Lee, yes I've read about TVOntario and Elwy Yost's hosting of the SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES, which aired Classic movies and his interviews. We should be glad that people such as Elwy Yost, Ray Nielsen, and others did what they did during that time, because most of the moviemakers, that they interviewed, are no longer with us.

      Tell me, is the t-shirt that you are wearing at the top of your blog, have anything to do with the TVOntario SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES?

      Stay safe and healthy.

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    5. I have to laugh. I had forgotten about my choice of attire in the picture here!

      My youngest sister gave me the "Elwy" shirt the Christmas before last. (I think I'm easy to shop for.) The nostalgic shop where she purchased it, RetroKids, is partly owned by Eric Bauza, an actor who has stepped into Mel Blanc's large shoes for the Looney Tunes franchise.

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  5. In BLOOD ON THE MOON the name JIM GARRY reminds me of TWO RODE TOGETHER starring RICHARD WIDMARK and JIMMY STEWART. In that movie Widmark's name is JIM GARY! Widmark was in a movie with BOB MITCHUM-THE WAY WEST with KIRK DOUGLAS. I've mentioned before that I thought some of the movie was boring. I'm glad I watched it, though-mainly because of Widmark and also I liked LOLA ALBRIGHT as his wife.

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    1. The Way West had potential, but it was not potential that was met.

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  6. RAOUL WALSH directed CLARK GABLE in three movies. Gable worked with LANA TURNER in several movies. Lana was born on Feb. 8, 1921. That was 100 years ago yesterday. Two of the movies that I have seen Lana in are THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL(with KIRK DOUGLAS) and PEYTON PLACE(Lana was nominated for the ACADEMY AWARD). On the prime time soap PEYTON PLACE when DOROTHY MALONE was recovering from medical issues LOLA ALBRIGHT temporarily played the part of CONSTANCE. It goes around!

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    1. Lola Albright is a favourite of mine as a favourite pastime is binging on Peter Gunn.

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  7. Good write up here. I like Pursued quite a bit, although it's been a good few years since I last saw it - it was a for a blog piece back in 2012 actually - and I really must get back to it.

    May I offer a small correction? You mention Robert Wise only directing two westerns, but he actually made three - the other being the underrated Two Flags West.

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    1. Colin, thank you so much for updating the file in my head labelled Wise, Robert. Of course, I rushed over to read about Two Flags West, and am intrigued and, apparently, you foreshadowed my faux pas with this line: "I like to highlight forgotten and/or neglected films whenever possible, and I think Two Flags West fits the bill."

      I found more to admire this go-round with Pursued than in the past, but I have a feeling we'll never really be close.

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  8. I mentioned LANA TURNER earlier. I know you like 60s fashion in the movies. Are there any of Lana's movies where you especially like the fashions(even if it was before the 60s)?

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    1. It must have been a pleasure to design for Lana. She was so gorgeous and really wore clothes well.

      I like the Jean Louis collection for Portrait in Black, 1960. The 1950s look in Peyton Place by Adele Palmer. Helen Rose's costumes for The Merry Widow are divine.

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  9. PHYLLIS THAXTER was in FORT WORTH(51) with RANDOLPH SCOTT. She was also in NO MAN OF HER OWN(50) with BARBARA STANWYCK. Phyllis played the real PATRICE HARKNESS.

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    1. I recall those movies well. I adore Phyllis in The Breaking Point with John Garfield and as the nice mom in The World of Henry Orient.

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  10. H.M. WYNANT is 94 today! I remember him from some of his PERRY MASON guest star roles. He was on 10 episodes. H.M. guest starred on some of the most popular 60s and 70s shows including GUNSMOKE, CANNON and MANNIX. He was in a movie with ELVIS PRESLEY-IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD'S FAIR. DEAN JAGGER was in one of your favorite ELVIS movies. He played the dad in KING CREOLE. H.M could have written a book about working in HOLLYWOOD that long!

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    1. I am happy every time I have the opportunity to watch H.M. Wynant. His Twilight Zone episode, The Howling Man is one of their classics.

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  11. I like your description "gothic-like noir". Perfect!

    This is SUCH a good film, and I'm so pleased you featured it on your site.

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    1. Thanks. I assume things are going well with the move and you are remembering to breathe.

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  12. I saw Blood on the Moon as a teen, and didn't at all remember that Robert Mitchum was in it! I only remember not liking it because Robert Preston was the bad guy, and I liked him as The Music Man and was thus disappointed. But boy, I think I would really like both of these now! Onto my try-to-see list they go.

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    1. Rachel, I am certain you would have a great appreciation for Blood on the Moon these days. And I speak as a bona fide, dyed in the wool Harold Hill groupie!

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