18 June 2006 | krorie
When There's Blood on the Moon...Death Lurks in the Shadows
This is perhaps the greatest of the noir westerns. Director Robert Wise had been in charge of the mythical "The Curse of the Cat People," not a sequel to the horror classic, "Cat People," as the studio expected, rather a fantasy film highlighting the imagination of a little girl.
Working with darkness and shadows emphasizing the mood of the picture makes "Blood on the Moon" seem gloomy and pessimistic, but actually the film is more about the redemption of a hopelessly lost cowboy, Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum), who finds meaning in life through the love of a woman, also named Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes) as was the little girl in "The Curse of the Cat People." The opposite of Jim Garry is his so-called pal, Tate Riling (Robert Preston). Rather than redemption, Riling falls deeper and deeper into the maelstrom of depravity, murder, and deception. Even his romance with Amy's sister, Carol Lufton (Phyllis Thaxter), is a treacherous, deceitful one. Riling uses Carol for his advantage, at times against her own family, while she is truly in love with him. Riling has few redeeming qualities and is bad through and through. The relationship between the two, Riling had actually invited Garry to join him, knowing what an expert he was with a gun, is the crux of the film. The story about the feud between the homesteaders, pawns for Riling, and the ranchers is a superficial one. Character studies make the movie worthwhile.
Walter Brennan as Kris Barden, a homesteader fooled by Riling for awhile, has a pivotal role showing how Riling's double dealings and egomania eventually catch up with him and destroy him. "One may smile, and smile, and be a villain" only so long. Barden is a counterpart to Garry's character. Frank Faylen, as Indian agent Jake Pindalest, in collusion with Riling's schemes for self-aggrandizement, on the other hand represents a counterpart to Riling's character.
The title is one of the best ever for a western. Supersitition has it that when there is blood on the moon (a particular atmospheric appearance of the moon), it's a sign that someone is going to be killed. When I was a boy one of my friend's dads operated a movie theater. He had accumulated a closet full of movie posters over the years. One day he was cleaning out his closets and asked me if I wanted the old posters. I eagerly latched on to them. Two posters impressed me above all the others. One was " The Grapes of Wrath" poster; the other was the "Blood on the Moon" one. Something about those titles and the art work on the posters grabbed my mind and my imagination. I didn't get to see either film for many years, eventually seeing them on TV. To me the magic of the posters matched the magic of the movies.