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  • "Rancho Notorious" is a beautifully atmospheric and suspenseful film. Best known for his expressionist black & white suspense thrillers, director Fritz Lang brings the same qualities to this Technicolor western.

    Although she must have been in her fifties when the film was made, Dietrich looks absolutely gorgeous. She also seems to be having lots of fun with the part, in a sense reprising her character from "Destry Rides Again." It's never explained how this woman with the strange German accent ended up in the Wild West, and we don't really care. By the way, Dietrich's performance in these two films was the basis for Madeline Kahn's great parody in "Blazing Saddles."

    The one thing that really stands out in my mind about this film is how effectively the suspense builds. The tension leading up to Vern's discovery of the killer's identity is almost unbearable, and Lang makes us wait until the film's last five minutes for the inevitable score-settling gunfight.

    In a period of film history when westerns were a dime a dozen, this one really stands out as a true classic.
  • When his fiancé Beth is raped and murdered during a robbery, peace-loving rancher Vern Haskell sets out to track down the man that did it. Driven by a desire for revenge more than justice, Haskell follows the trail to a casino and bordello called Chuck-A-Luck. Here he follows his leads to Alter Keane and gunslinger French Fairmont; they take him onto their staff at their horse ranch and gang HQ and Haskell hopes to use his cover to get his closer to finding out who it was that raped his girl. However in keeping his cover, Haskell finds himself drawn into their world more and more.

    The staples of westerns of the period are all here – revenge, Technicolor, songs and romance; however this film opens with a rape (and it is fairly obvious that it was a violent rape) and a nice man who descents into violent anger. In a way the film makes this its central theme but it doesn't continue in this very strong vein and softens it somewhat with the addition of romance and musical interludes. From here on in it is still enjoyable but never marks itself out as more than a solid genre western; the complexities that I had hoped would consume him were not to be found in Haskell to any great degree. Despite this the plot still works well enough to engage and the gruff pace avoids sentimentality and makes the tough romance easier to swallow in context. The action is roundly enjoyable and Lang directs well within the sets, providing some good shots that stick in the mind.

    The cast are mixed but generally meet the standard required of them. Dietrich may have demanded she be made to look as young as possible but her age helps stand her apart from the usual love interest actresses. She is tough and enjoyable in her role but I could have done without the songs. Kennedy is reasonably good but not too comfortable with his character – he is either a white knight or a gurning ball of rage; subtlety is not his key word. Ferrer is lively and fun and makes more of his character than the genre usually allows the "other man" character to do. Support from Elam, Reeves and others is all solid enough to make it work.

    So an enjoyable genre western then but a bit disappointing for throttling back after such a tough start. The standard revenge plot is made more interesting by the change in Haskell but it could have been better; meanwhile the usual action, songs and romance all work pretty well and will easily please genre fans.
  • Chuck-a-Luck is a hole in the wall type ranch where men with prices on their heads hide out and are given protection by Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) and her lover Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer) for ten percent of the loot brought in my the outlaws. Chuck-a-Luck is called Rancho Notorious in the film's title, which does sound somewhat better. Unfortunately a terrible narrative theme, "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck" used throughout the movie becomes very grating to the ears. The ballad singer William Lee (who is he anyway?) doesn't help the situation. Fortunately the songs chosen for the talented Marlene Dietrich to perform are much better (actually one "Gypsy Davey" is an old British ballad that Woody Guthrie turned into a cowboy song). Her renditions are not quite on the level of her "See What The Boys In The Backroom Will Have" from the western classic "Destry Rides Again" but are still captivating. (Interesting that she played a saloon girl named Frenchy in "Destry" whereas this time her lover is named Frenchy.)

    This is one of few so-called adult westerns from the 1950's that actually lives up to that label. The flashback barroom scene where the soiled angels are riding their customers in a drunken mock horse race as jockeys would ride horses shows how fun and games in Old West saloons really took place. The whores are not prima donnas as oft times shown in Hollywood films. Pay particular attention to the gross fat showgirl trying to ride a much smaller client. It is funny and repulsive at the same time. Fritz Lang takes away all window dressing. Even Marlene Dietrich looks much more slutty and rough around the edges than she did in "Destry." Being over a decade older gives even more authenticity to Dietrich's character. She looks like a much older Lola Lola from "Blue Angel."

    Mel Ferrer is an actor with a somewhat limited range. In the right role he could shine. His best acting was done in a movie that came out just before this one, "The Brave Bulls." But his second best role is as Frenchy in "Rancho Notorious." He fits his part much better than Arthur Kennedy fits his. Kennedy as a gunslinging rancher is fine but Kennedy the lover takes a suspension of belief, especially as Marlene Dietrich's lover. One can just imagine how he would look in the morning after one night with Altar Keane.

    Fritz Lang's direction is spectacular. He captures all the nuances of the characters. His flashback technique at the first of the movie to define Altar Keane's persona is reminiscent of Orson Welles' milestone direction of "Citizen Kane." Then he progresses to an almost film noir western in color. The cinematography is much better in some parts of the film. It is not as effective when Frenchy and Vern (Arthur Kennedy) are together in the hills (the background sometimes looks phony) than when interior sets are used. Perhaps this relates to a money problem producing the show.

    Another enjoyable facet of the feature is the gallery of colorful character actors who all do superlative jobs. George Reeves (tv's Superman) is lovingly menacing as a womanizing gun toting ambusher. Jack Elam is fine as a distrustful negative thinking thief. Frank Ferguson plays the outlaw called Preacher who prays and reads from the Bible for special guidance in robbing and killing. William Frawley (better known as Fred Mertz) shows a mean side playing a double dealing saloon gambler who fires Altar. Fuzzy Knight is an honest barber who tries to help Vern out of a mess. This time he doesn't stutter. Several other notables such as Tom London, Kermit Maynard, and Harry Woods have interesting bit parts.

    If Lang could have borrowed Tex Ritter from High Noon to do an appropriate theme, "Rancho Notorious" would have been a winner all the way.
  • Steffi_P26 November 2010
    The Western is so unique, so internalised, and so full of instantly-recognisable motifs, that many Westerns from the classic era take on the look and feel not of the western United States, but some surreal and separate country, as far removed from America as anywhere else. This was especially the case when the increasingly European production crews in Hollywood produced their skewed yet affectionate takes on this "most American of genres".

    Rancho Notorious at first comes across as a "noir" Western, at least if one looks at the Sylvia Richards story and Daniel Taradash screenplay, but it's much more than that. Director Fritz Lang probably had much less to do with the screenplay than is sometimes claimed (he was never a particularly great writer, even in his native German), but he has a whole lot to do with the tone of the picture. Far from turning this into an anti-western, he makes use of sweeping landscapes, rough-looking saloons and typical cowboy business, the sort of thing some revisionist filmmakers eschewed, but they are all given that typical Lang look of zigzagging paths and stark diagonal lines. He also injects that stylised rhythmic feel that harks back to his silent pictures or the bizarre semi-musical gangster movie You and Me (1938). A montage of gritty faces underscores a few of the songs, while a mysterious puff of smoke drifts onto the screen as Marlene Dietrich decides whether or not to gamble the last of her money. The impression is of a Western full of exaggerated cliché, and yet totally remote from the cosy cowboy flick.

    The second crucial figure in Rancho Notorious is the other German émigré, Fraulein Dietrich. Although Dietrich is not really known as a Western star, her only other appearance in the genre being Destry Rides Again in 1939, her character in Rancho Notorious seems to be a play upon her old screen persona. It seems to chime particularly true with her real career trajectory that everyone remembers Altar Keane's name, a few have some sordid stories about her, but no-one seems to know quite what has happened to her now. Dietrich plays the part sublimely, conjuring up some of her old magic, tinged with the weariness of middle-age. Her best moments are in the series of flashbacks in which her character is introduced – her gleeful cheating in the "horse" race scene, or the disdainfulness with which she brushes off a would-be admirer in the gambling joint. She has the air of someone who has been round the block a bit, and yet makes it eminently clear why men still love her and fight over her. The very worthy Arthur Kennedy is ostensibly the lead player, although it is appropriate he is billed below Dietrich not just because she was a bigger star, but because she really is the heart of this movie.

    Rancho Notorious is rather a cheap and cheerful offering, with the all the production values of the trashy B-Westerns that this era was full of. And yet it has something that even some of the most prestigious and professional pictures do not. Everyone involved seems to have been working on the same wavelength. There is the stripped-down production design of Wiard Ihnen and washed out Hal Mohr cinematography, which help to give it this bleak, distant imagery. Then there's the casting in smaller roles, stereotypically Western yet almost comically over-the-top, like the coroner who pronounces a man "reeeaal dead", or the moustachioed old-timer who imagines the ranch as some sort of romantic hideaway. And finally those haunting and twisted takes on the cowboy ballads penned by Ken Darby. Together they create a compelling view of the west, not as it really was, but as it has been imagined – in this instance, a dream of the Old West a few shades away from a nightmare.
  • I'm not a Marlene Dietrich fan and don't really see Arthur Kennedy as being charismatic enough to interest her, and am not usually keen on background ballads, but I enjoyed this film from beginning to end.

    Director Fritz Lang keeps the pace lively and brightens up the generally sombre mood with a couple of light-hearted sequences - first the "horse-race" with saloon girls riding cowboys and then the crooked politicians awaiting their fate in gaol.

    "Variety" Film Guide calls the plot "corny", but it's no more so than many other films of the 1950s, or indeed of any other decade, and it's different to most Westerns of the period. And for those times it's also relatively direct in its treatment of sex; we are left in no doubt that Kennedy's fiancée has been raped and that the man Kennedy suspects of the assault is obviously out for what he can get from women.

    One is not told how Kennedy acquires his gun-fighting skills - at the beginning a posse member points out his lack of these. The only weakness are a couple of "outdoor" scenes obviously filmed in the studio, where the rock formations are eye-catchingly unrealistic.

    The acting is generally good, with Kennedy doing well as the grief- stricken hero seeking revenge and Mel Ferrer showing screen-presence as the slightly sinister and somewhat sensitive fast gun.
  • Rancho Notorious is a gorgeous film, with beautiful Technicolor cinematography. It almost reaches the poetry of a John Ford film, or a great film noir, but falls just a little short. Arthur Kennedy plays Vern, a rancher whose fiancee is brutally raped and murdered. He goes out for revenge, following the clues. He ends up at Rancho Notorious, a hideout for outlaws run by Alder Keane, played wonderfully by Marlene Dietrich in one of her most memorable roles. She's fully in her philosophical mode here, like she was in Touch of Evil a few years later. She's so sad, so beautiful. She also has a great musical number. Mel Ferrer is also quite good as Frenchie Fairmont, a lethal cowboy who loves Alder. There are also a lot of great supporting actors playing colorful villains, especially George Reeves (T.V.'s Superman).

    The story is quite great. There are a couple of problems with characterizations, especially Vern. He's mostly great. He's mostly a noir hero, flawed in his own right but always believing that he's on an entirely moral quest. The film goes wrong when he becomes the romantic hero. He's too creepy. Dietrich simply dominates him. Mel Ferrer fairs much better in that way. The climactic sequence also disappoints. The other major flaw is that damn theme song. Rancho Notorious is pulp, it's very over-the-top, but that goofy song would make anybody laugh. Also, the name Chuck-a-Luck inspired a lot of laughs in the audience (I was lucky enough to see it at a theater).

    Overall, though, Rancho Notorious is a great film, quite haunting in its own right. It's one of Lang's best, by my reckoning, up there with Fury and M. 9/10.
  • dcshanno18 January 2002
    First of all, the word "noir" is thrown around much too carelessly, so let's be clear: This is a Western. Pure and simple. In fact it's a pretty bad Western, really, but somehow it manages to be a lot of fun. You've got Marlene Dietrich a little past her prime with plucked and painted eyebrows that leave her facial expression in a perpetual state of surprise. There's a gunslinger named "Frenchy Fairmont," and a warbly sung narrative song throughout reminding us that this is a tale of murder and revenge. I especially liked the line (I don't remember it exactly) spoken by a doctor who rattles off a list of a cowboy's injuries and sums up by saying, "So, really, he's pretty dead."

    "Rancho Notorious" isn't one of the genre's better entries, but see it some time just for its entertainment value.
  • Fritz Lang's superlative western teeters dangerously on the edge of campness, (it's that infernal 'Legend of Chuck-a-Luck' ballad pounding away on the soundtrack, continually reminding us that this is a tale of 'hate ... murder and revenge'). Then, of course, there is that great gay icon Marlene Dietrich, looking extraordinary at fifty one as Altar Keane, boss of the outlaw hideout Chuck-a-Luck where Arthur Kennedy comes seeking the man who killed his girl in a robbery. In many respects the film is a perfect companion to Nicholas Ray's not dissimilar "Johnny Guitar", made around the same time and both featuring dominant women and weaker men and both dealing explicitly with 'hate, murder and revenge'.

    This is a very tight piece of work, thematically dense and psychologically astute and directed by Lang in a truly classical style. It affords all the pleasures that a really good western should while still falling perfectly within a milieu recognizable from many of Lang's American works. "Johnny Guitar's" veiled lesbianism together with Nicholas Ray's growing reputation may have given it the edge but this, too, is a remarkable film, an essential work by one of the cinema's greatest directors.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Fritz Lang, the director, was quite a guy -- the last of the red hot authoritarians. He strode around the set in riding breeches and boots, a monocle in his eye, shouting orders in a German accent through his megaphone. He carried a sinister quirt.

    He made a silent feature in Germany, "Metropolis", that stands out from all the others of its type. When asked by the Nazis to head their film propaganda program, he told them he was "tickled pink" and he and his wife were on the next airplane to Hollywood, where he turned out a couple of splendid films noir and a few interesting mystery dramas, even a war movie of some merit.

    I have no idea why he consented to direct this irredeemable piece of crap. Most of the budget must have gone to Marlene Dietrich and Lang himself. (Maybe that's the reason.) It's a sort of rip off of Lang's "The Big Heat," in which a man's beloved is traumatized and the man spends the rest of the movie grimly seeking revenge.

    Unlike "The Big Heat," which at least let us see some cloying moments between Glenn Ford and his happy wife, we don't really get to know Arthur Kennedy's fiancée in this movie. But the revenge motive is equally strong. Instead of being blown apart, Kennedy's amour is "outraged" before she is shot to death in a hold up.

    Kennedy, just an ordinary cow poke, hunts them down alone, from Wyoming to Dietrich's ranch near the Mexican border. I'm always puzzled when I see some footloose wanderer, just aroamin' around, looking for somebody or something. It's a long way from Wyoming to Mexico on horseback, stopping frequently to ask questions. Kennedy started on his unplanned journey with nothing but the clothes on his back. Where did he get the money? I mean, okay, he sleeps out under the stars with his saddle for a pillow. But how about in town? When the hotel desk clerk asks for payment, into what stash does Kennedy reach? And how did he come to be such an accomplished gunslinger after only a little practice? But why ask such questions? The movie is strictly routine. It's studio bound. The acting is sometimes execrable but even the better performers can't overcome the script. The infrequent attempts at humor fail. And you should hear the tawdry theme song.

    This is not Fritz Lang territory. He's stranded in the desert here, staggering about, desperate for relief from the heat, a sip of water, an aromatic whiff of smog, a Wiener Schnitzel.
  • A honest rancher, palming himself off as an outlaw to gain acceptance into a fraternal haven of gangsters hiding out in the sticks, is only after the varmint who murdered his fiancée--but ends up feeling a strong sexual attraction to the woman who runs the Chuck-a-Luck, a former saloon hostess with a colorful reputation. Fritz Lang-directed western was plagued with problems (both during the production and after), although Marlene Dietrich--allegedly the cause of most of the on-set turmoil--gives a must-see performance as the notorious Altar Keane ("They even named a railroad car after her!"). Throaty, sensuous, and no-nonsense, Dietrich is willing to go all the way with this role, and one can practically feel the binds holding her back. Arthur Kennedy is better than usual as the newcomer to Dietrich's brood of happy killers and robbers (he and Marlene have palpable chemistry), but Mel Ferrer is stiff and unsure as suave outlaw Frenchy Fairmont (the cartoonish name doesn't match the actor playing the role). The deep, mellow colors are beautiful, and yet the Technicolor cinematography heightens the artificiality of the indoor sets. Not a great picture, and one that is prodded along by a laughably corny folk ballad, though Lang does manage to come up with a few fresh twists on the genre and the supporting players are solid. ** from ****
  • In Wyoming , when his sweetheart is murdered , then an embittered cowboy (Arthur Kennedy who was playing a young man , he was actually three years older than Mel Ferrer) hunting enemies and on the trail of his fiancee's murderer . First with a posse, then by himself , to an outlaw hideout ranch called Chuck-a-Luck (it means a gambling game commonly played in saloons in the Southwest) . As he arrives in Rancho Notorious and the main question is the following : to guess the killer in the mansion . Then , he falls for a dance girl , Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich who sings some songs in his usual style) , ranch owner that is a refuge for thieves and she posing as an upright rancher and horse seller . In the ranch there is a motley group of bandits (Frank Ferguson , William Frawley , Francis McDonald , Jack Elam and George Reeves with a scar on his cheek) led by Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer) who scheme to rob a bank in Clay Springs city .

    This traditional Western contains drama , thrills , rousing action , frontier adventure , shootouts , and exuberant outdoors , though including matte painting images . This vintage epic Western turns out to be a throughly entertaining picture that will appeal to Western fans . It is an interesting flick in which an initial murder triggering off a tale of hatred , vengeance and a triangular love . A ¨period¨ sample'of 50s westerns , but different to common themes . Fine acting and a lot of duels , shots and killings . Medium budget Western for all those who love moody , thoughtful westerns . This is a very good Western by Fritz Lang , he made three , there's only one better than this , and that's ¨The return of Frank James¨ . Good performances for all-star-cast . Nice acting by Marlene Dietrich at her slinkiest , in fact Rancho Notorious is a must for Marlene fans . As Arthur Kennedy as a ranch hand called Vern Haskell who pursues the killers his girlfriend, following the trail to an outlaw's roost . Kennedy holds his twisted expression to great effect as the relentless cowboy hunting a hidden killer . Acceptable Mel Ferrer as Frenchy Fairmont , an outlaw really enamored to Altar and who defends his love .

    The film displays a brilliant cinematography in rich Technicolor by expert cameraman Hal Mohr who had previously photographed Marlene Dietrich in Arizona (1939) . In addition , attractive and evocative musical score by Ken Darby , Emil Newman and uncredited Hugo Friedhofer and Arthur Lange ; including some catching western songs . The motion picture produced by Howard Welsch and RKO was tight as well as seethingly directed by Fritz Lang with great enthusiasm and in his particular style . This was Lang's third Western , following his favorite ¨The return of Frank James¨ with Henry Fonda and ¨Western Union¨ , a Darryl F Zanuck's 20th Century Fox production about construction of the glamorous ¨Western Union¨ route from Omaha , Nebraska , to Salt Lake City , Utah with Robert Young and Dean Jagger . The German Fritz showed himself a master of the most American of genres . As Lang directed masterfully all kind of genres as Noir cinema as ¨Big heat¨ , ¨Scarlet Street¨ and ¨Beyond a reasonable doubt¨ , Epic as ¨Nibelungs¨, suspense as ¨Secret beyond the door¨ , ¨Clash by night¨ and Lang's trilogy about Nazi time as ¨Cloak and dagger¨, ¨Man hunt¨ and ¨Hangmen also die¨, and of course , Sci-Fi with the classic ¨Metropolis¨. Rating Rancho Notorious : Better than average . Well worth watching .
  • When the film begins, Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy) is shown with his fiancé. However, shortly after Vern leaves her store, a thug wanders in to rob the place and then assaults and murders her as well. Vern makes it his life work to track down the killer and punish him, but he has very few clues. Through much of the film, he's on the trail and eventually finds his way to a wanted man, Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer). He arranges to break Frenchy out of jail...and pretends to be a bad guy in the hope that Frenchy takes him to the rest of the gang and the murderer. Once with the gang, however, like EVERYONE in this film he inexplicably falls for the charms of Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich)--a woman who runs sort of a hostel for crooks called 'Chuck-A-Luck'. Vern's problem now is what to do...keep on his path of revenge or settle down with Altar and her feminine wiles.

    While I know a lot of folks love this film, for me it was problematic to watch due to the casting. Like Joan Crawford in "Johnny Guitar", the leading lady (Dietrich) was just too old and unattractive to be portraying such a vivacious and sexy character. Some women are still gorgeous at 51, but, sadly, Dietrich here is just kind of sad playing a sexy siren. This is a severe knock against the film as is the annoying song "Chuck-A-Luck", though otherwise it is well acted, written and directed (by Fritz Lang of all people). Enjoyable but seriously flawed.
  • Fritz Lang's final western is watchable because of it's strangeness.We start with the nominal hero(Arthur Kennedy)in happy mood with his future wife,who is promptly brutally murdered by two villains,one of whom shoots the other afterwards over an argument over money.

    Kennedy's thirst for revenge eventually takes him to a ranch run by former showgirl Marlene Dietrich,which is a haven for various killers,bad guys,gunfighters,etc.The man who carried out the brutal killing(Lloyd Gough)is one of the said above,and it takes Kennedy until the film's last few minutes to find out.

    There are many positive aspects of the film,but as many negative.Lang's moody,Teutonic direction is a major plus here,as are fine performances by Arthur Kennedy and Marlene Dietrich,but others,such as a badly miscast Mel Ferrer,a very dated linking ballad which tends to provoke unintentional derision nowadays,and some highly unconvincing outdoor studio sets made even more so by colour(the film probably would have been more effective in Black and White).

    One interesting piece of trivia:Lloyd Gough,who plays the brutal killer Kinch,did not receive a credit despite his pivotal role in RANCHO NOTORIOUS.This was because his left-wing politics fell foul of the House Un-American activities Commitee,and RKO boss Howard Hughes.As a result,Gough was blacklisted from Hollywood after this film,and did not appear in another until 15 years later(TONY ROME,1967).
  • The third and last Western by Fritz Lang, Rancho Notorious is a weird, distinctive, film-noir infused Oater containing familiar Fritz Lang themes. Adapted by Daniel Taradash from an original story by Silvia Richards, the story follows Arthur Kennedy's frontiersman Vern Haskell as he trawls the West in search of the culprit responsible for the rape and murder of his fiancée. He winds up at a place known as Chuck-a-Luck, a ranch and front for a criminal hideout that is run by smouldering chanteuse Altar Keane {Marlene Dietrich}. Posing as a criminal himself, Haskell hooks up with gunslinger Frenchy Fairmont {Mel Ferrer} and infiltrates the unsavoury mob behind the scenes of the Chuck-a-Luck. But problems arise as both Haskell and Frenchy vie for the attentions of Altar and slowly but surely, as Haskell gets closer to his target, it's evident that he is so torn and twisted by revenge he's become as bad as the villains he now aims to bring down.

    Reference Fritz Lang, love, betrayal and retribution, cloak them in a decidedly feminist sheen and what you get is Rancho Notorious. That the film is an oddity is something of an understatement, yet it works in a very unique sort of way. The film opens with one of the most god awful title songs used in Westerns, "Legend of Chuck-A-Luck" song by Bill Lee, from then the tune is used at points of reference in the narrative. It seems like a joke song, hell it sounds like a joke song, but within the first quarter of the film a pretty young lady is raped and murdered, Haskell is informed that she "wasn't spared anything," this is completely at odds with the tone that had been set at that time. The Technicolour photography provided by Hal Mohr has a garish sheen to it, this too gives the film a confused feel, most likely the intention there is to convey a sense of gloom as Haskell's bile starts to rise. And then the first sight of Dietrich, astride a man, riding him like a horse in some bizarre barroom contest. All of which points to Lang perhaps being over audacious with his intentions. But he wasn't, and to stay with the film brings many rewards as he revels in the tale of inner turmoil. This ultimately becomes a perfect companion piece to Lang's brilliant film noir the following year, The Big Heat. The similarities between the lead male protagonist and the femme fatale are impossible to cast aside as being mere coincidence. Rest assured Lang was at home with these themes, and cinema fans are the better for it.

    It was a troubled production tho, one that belies the quality of the final product. Studio head Howard Hughes kept interfering {nothing new there of course}, even taking away control of the editing from the increasingly infuriated Lang. While the relationship between the fiery director and Dietrich broke down to such an extent they stopped talking to each other by the end of the film. Dietrich was troubled by her age at this time, often begging Mohr to work miracles with his photography to convey a more youthful look for the once "Babe of Berlin". Yet she need not of worried for her real life concerns dovetail with that of her character, which in turn gives the film a revelatory performance. With Dietrich backed up by the similarity excellent Kennedy, Rancho Notorious has much class to go with its odd and visionary touches. A different sort of Western to be sure, but most definitely a Fritz Lang baby, this deserves the classic status that is now afforded it. 8/10
  • Thirteen years after Marlene Dietrich lit up the old west and the town of Bottleneck in particular in Destry Rides Again, she got another chance to play an older, but maybe not so much wiser version of Frenchie as Altar Keane in Rancho Notorious.

    Apparently at one time Marlene was as notorious a saloon entertainer as Frenchie back in the day. But she's got a new line of work. She's taken her money and got a ranch now that doubles as an outlaw hideout. For a cut in their loot she gives them asylum. The place is called Chuck-a-Luck and its known in the western criminal community.

    Enter Arthur Kennedy who is after the man who raped, robbed, and murdered his fiancé, Gloria Henry. He's got a line on the guy who did the deed that he's headed for this mysterious place called Chuck-a-Luck.

    Kennedy joins a pantheon of male Fritz Lang protagonists who get terribly wronged and are seeking vengeance. It's a good group, Spencer Tracy in Fury, Glenn Ford in The Big Heat, Henry Fonda in The Return of Frank James. Lang's heroes are looking for vengeance and there's not too much they won't do to get it.

    Before Hitler came to power, Fritz Lang was the top German director and Marlene Dietrich their brightest female star. They had not worked together while in Germany, over here they got involved romantically for a bit, but never professionally.

    They were friends, but that ended with Rancho Notorious. Lang may have been anti-Nazi, but on the soundstage he was a regular Prussian martinet. Henry Fonda hated working with him on the two films he did and so did Dietrich.

    One of the sheltered outlaws is George Reeves, taking a hiatus from Superman. Reeves is a love and leave them type and for a while Kennedy thinks he's the one that killed Henry. He does a very good job in the part and it's tragic to think he was capable of so much more than a kid's television superhero.

    Mel Ferrer plays Marlene's boyfriend, a flashy gunman who curiously enough is named Frenchy. He's not a western type by any stretch, but the point is that he is a cut above the usual outlaw bunch at the Marlene hideaway.

    Rancho Notorious is not a great western, a great Fritz Lang film, and definitely not one of Marlene's better films. But it's entertaining enough and there ain't no one like Ms. Dietrich as a saloon entertainer.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    After seeing the charming Western Rachel and the Stranger,I took a look at the TV listings,and found out that the BBC were following the screening with a Western from Fritz Lang. Previously only knowing Lang for his Sci-Fi,Film Noir and late Adventure movies,I excitingly got set to enter Lang's Western metropolis.

    The plot:

    Working as a ranch hand, Vern Haskell finds his peaceful life to be left broken when his fiancée Beth Forbes is killed during a robbery. Finding no help from the law,Haskell leaves his peaceful life behind,and goes in search of the outlaws. Finding one of the robbers dying on the ground after being betrayed by his former pal,Haskell is told of a game called Chuck-a-Luck. Locating the main salon where the game is played,Haskell crosses paths with Altar Keane,who along with getting lucky on Chuck-a-Luck,is now wearing some of Forbes jewellery.

    View on the film:

    Locked from giving a full crack of the whip by studio owner Howard Hughes taking control of the editing and his relationship with the lead actress being so "frosty" that they ended up not speaking to each other during production,director Fritz Lang & cinematographer Hal Mohr are still able to find a saddle which allows them to enter the Wild West with style,as expertly delivered overlapping images cast an evil under the sun Film Noir atmosphere under the West,with the burning hot sun dimming as Haskell takes another step to finding Forbes killers. Possibly spurred on by the production "issues" Lang shootout with a peculiar comedic side,which steps into view as all the dames take the cowboys on in a piggyback ride contest.

    Being a diva on set (with her demanding Mohr to make her look younger) Marlene Dietrich wonderfully transfers her off-screen confidence to the screen,via giving Altar Keane a brashness which keeps all the boys in line. Haunted by the sight of his dead wife, Arthur Kennedy gives a marvellous performance as Haskell,whose sweet heroic smile is tainted by Kennedy as loner who finds himself unable to stop the transformation into an outlaw,as Haskell gets his revenge with a game of Chuck-a- Luck.
  • jazza9239 March 2010
    60/100. You would think the combination of Lang and Marlene Dietrich would be amazing, but this is my fourth viewing of the film over a 35 year period, and not once was I impressed with this movie. The score is a little overbearing and it just rarely rises above an ordinary western from the 1950's. I was disappointed in the art direction, the sets looked very obvious to me. It's a fair story given an okay treatment. I am in the minority on this one, but the film to me went from one cliché to another. Arthur Kennedy is a bland choice and lacks the fire needed for the role. Certainly it has some good visuals, so at least one of Fritz Lang's trademark touches came through.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Synopsis: Vern Haskell, a nice rancher, seeks out to avenge his fiancé's death when she is killed during a robbery. His revenge leads him to Chuck-a-luck, Altar Keane's ranch set up to hide criminals, and he finds more than he bargains for.

    Personally, I find most European "art" movies unwatchable. However, Fritz Lang's Hollywood movies are different. They have this weird arty European vibe, but combined with basic American entertainment practicality. This is what makes "Rancho Notorious" so worth watching.

    Here's a list of positives:

    • This is just an great part for Marlene Dietrich. It fits her like a glove and she hits the ball way out of the park. Lang does a great job building Altar Keane's character with a series of flashbacks.


    • Arthur Kennedy's lead character, Vern Haskell, abandons a posse and sets out on a solo epic journey to track down the killer/rapist of his fiancé. Six years later, a similar storyline formed the basis of the greatest Western ever made, "The Searchers". Unlike, Ethan Edwards, Verne travels alone, an alienated individual roaming the formless, vast West bent on revenge.


    • Lang milks the concept of a community of outlaws, or brotherhood of outlaws to the maximum in this film. This is one of those arty European things that adds so much to the movie and makes watching it such a different experience from the average Western.


    The movie is limited by the following problems:

    • You have to look past the silly song narration to enjoy this film.


    • This was shot completely in Burbank on some of the phoniest sets I've ever seen.


    • Not a single Indian, Civil War or Mexican theme introduced, outside of some Mexican servants.


    • Poorly developed heavy. Kinch, the rapist/murderer, has a very small part and is a blatant coward.


    • No comic relief.


    • Mel Ferrer seems very stiff and out of place against fine performances by Dietrich and Kennedy.


    • Hey, I love Arthur Kennedy. Although he gets the most out of his acting ability in this film, he's just not a legit romantic lead, especially opposite Dietrich. Some more starpower in that spot would have elevated this movie substantially. Kennedy was a great supporting actor, see is role as Vic Hansbro in "The Man From Laramie", or as Emerson Cole in "Bend of the River".
  • bruno-3214 May 2005
    I cannot imagine the positive reviews I've read here about this movie. I finally caught it last night and had to turn it off. The technicolor is awful, Dietrich ( trying to repeat her so called success from Destry Rides Again ) awful, at 11 years later. The narrated song lyrics awful, which was the trend then. Most of the acting was amateurish for all players, with the exception Of Gloria Henry, who fortunately for her, had a bit part. Fritz Lang a disappointment..period. When this movie was originally released ( 1951 ) as i recalled panned by the critics. That was the reason I avoided to see it, until now. Obviously, they were right. Dietrich needed a stronger leading man than Ferrerr and Kennedy.
  • The strange factor is what is foremost in this odd and artificial Western. Most Movie Westerns try to avoid false images that betray their fictional accounts. Here Director Fritz Lang has no notions. He seems to revel in the obvious false presentation of it all.

    It is this wrapping of Studio Sets that announce their cardboard makeup rather than going at length to obfuscate that is troublesome. But, there are a few striking Scenes that linger in the imagination. The one with the Barroom Belles riding their Johns like broken Stallions stands out among a few others.

    It is not a highly enjoyable Mythological trip to the old West, but that was probably the intent. After all, it is an Adult Tale all the way. The Story of a Rape and Murder and the inevitable, tireless, revenge rampage is hardly the stuff usually seen with Cowpokes among wide open spaces.

    The antithesis of aesthetics doesn't always work here and there is some miscasting, most notably Arthur Kennedy who has a great snarl but falls way short in the wooing Scenes, and cannot overcome being blown off the Screen by Marlene Dietrich. But overall, this is viewable because of its quirkiness rather than despite of it.

    On a final note, be prepared for the most intrusive accompanied Ballad, that like so many Westerns of the Fifties, felt it necessary to sing the Plot as it moves along. This is definitely the Worst and almost single handedly removes this from riveting to ridiculous.
  • Marlene Dietrich is that queen. She earns a dishonest buck running a way station for bad hombres and outlaws on the run. It's sort of a Rick's Café Mexicaine, you might say. Everybody comes to Marlene's.

    With young studs vying for a Marlene well past her prime, this isn't so much Home on the Range as it is Camp on the Range. (Do young stallions go for a worn-out nag rather than seek greener pastures and finer fillies?)

    There's no fooling with her though. There's no doubt who's really wearing the chaps in this crowd.

    Marlene sometimes shows her feminine side. Her briefly-glimpsed lilac dress looked good in gaudy Technicolor. Most of the time Marlene is wearing enough war paint to pass for a Cheyenne in a normal Western.

    There is an indescribably bad song which pops up now and again reminding us of things we already know. "Hate ... Murder ... and REVENGE" is the unsubtle refrain. It produces an off-key chorus of snickers from the audience.

    Fritz Lang directed this farrago although you'd never guess.

    The movie's highlight for me was the saloon steeplechase. Yes, that was cute.

    This might appeal to someone who wants an over-the-top anti-Western. I prefer the real thing myself.
  • In a small town in the Wyoming, the pacific cowboy Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy) and his beloved fiancée Beth Forbes (Gloria Henry) will get married in eight days, and plan their lives living in a ranch of their own in eight years with many children. However, their dream is destroyed when Beth is raped and murdered by an outlaw during a heist in the store of her father. The full of hate Vern follows the trail of the criminal alone, and meets his partner, who was betrayed by the killer and shot on his back, dying in the desert. The bandit tells that his partner is going to Chuck-a-Luck hiding place, but nobody knows where it is. In his journey, Vern learns how to shoot and listens to many stories about the famous Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich), a woman that worked in many cabarets and made a fortune gambling in a Chuck-a-Luck wheel helped by the hit-man Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer), the fastest trigger in the west. When Vern finds that Frenchy has just been captured and is arrested in the local jail, he shoots bottles in a bar to be sent to jail. Vern is locked with Frenchy and becomes his friend when he helps the hit-man to escape. They ride to a remote ranch in the border owned by Keane, actually a sanctuary for criminals, where Vern tries to find the murderer and revenge the death of Beth.

    "Notorious Ranch" is a wonderful tale of hate, murder and revenge. I am not fan of the genre, but this western directed by Fritz Lang tells a solid and credible story, with characters very well-developed and supported by a magnificent cast leaded by Marlene Dietrich, Arthur Kennedy and Mel Ferrer. I only regret the poor quality of image of the Brazilian DVD, which has not been restored. My vote is eight.

    Title (Brazil): "O Diabo Feito Mulher" ("The Devil Like Woman")
  • Rancho Notorious was the third and the last Western Fritz Lang directed, the first two being The Return of Frank James and Western Union. It might be considered a revisiting of the `pure' Westerns, such as the two previously mentioned ones and other classics made in the ‘30s and ‘40s by such maestros of the genre as John Ford, Howard Hawks and King Vidor to name just a few.

    In Rancho Notorious also can be easily seen traces of influence of Fritz Lang's previous films, for example, his Film-Noir classics. It was also quite innovative the use of songs to help to tell the story better, the way the songs are melted in film's narrative that is rather remarkable.

    Fritz Lang originally wanted the film to be called The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck, Chuck-a-Luck being the name of a mythical rancho were most part of the film's action takes place and which is also the name of the title song. But Howard Hughes, then producer of RKO Pictures opposed to that idea, and film was released under the name Rancho Notorious.

    The film begins with a young cowboy Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy), kissing his soon to be wife, a scene with which most of other films normally end. But this idyllic mood wasn't destined to remain for a much time as two bandits rob the shop were the young woman works, rape and kill her. Vern begins to trail the criminals seeking vengeance. While on the run, one of the bandits fatally wounds another taking all the money with him. Vern finds him while he's still alive and learns that his companion is heading towards a place called Chuck-a-Luck to meet someone by the name Altar Keane. Soon he finds out that Altar Keane is a mysterious woman who had been a saloon star for many years but disappeared a few years ago and nobody knows her whereabouts. Altar's (Marlene Dietrich) story as it told to Vern is shown in flashbacks in the film. Soon he meets Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer), who is known as Altars long time lover and also quite famous as the fastest to draw the gun in the area. With his help he finally meets the legendary woman, who's living on a distant rancho from where she operate a band of outlaws, who have quite a respect for her and always provide her with a percentage out of whatever they manage to rob. But nothing is resolved yet for Vern, who still has to find out who is the one guilty of his fiancé's murder and take revenge on him. 8/10
  • **SPOILERS** Fritz Lang western circa 1874 about murder and revenge with Vern Haskell, Authur Kennedy, out by himself looking for the killer of his fiancé Beth Forbes (Gloria Henry), who was shot to death in a robbery. That in the end leads him to the notorious Chuck-O-luck Ranch owned by former saloon singer and dancer Altar Keane, Marlene Dietrich.

    At the ranch after a number of adventures, where he's almost killed by both the local lawmen and criminals, Vern knows that one of the badman there who's being protected from the law is his fiancé's killer. For Vern to find out who is takes up almost the entire movie. The clue that gives killer away is a diamond broach that Altar has that was given to her by Beth's killer.

    The killer gets the jump on Vern first by realizing who he is, by the way he mounts his horse, and that he's at the Chuck-O-Luck Ranch only looking for him and is not a wanted man like the rest of the desperadoes there. The killer then plans to knock him off in a coming bank robbery that the bunch of badmen at the Chuck-O-Luck planned the next day.

    Off-the-wall cowboy film that has a lot of hidden meanings in it, like all of Fritz Langs movies. Marlene Dietrich more or less re-creates her role in "Destry Rides Again" that she made some 13 years earlier back in 1939 but this time she's a lot more subdued and no where as frisky in her role but the movie, to it's producers credit, is in glorious color not black and white.

    So-so story that just doesn't take off at all but with a much better cast then you would have expected in it due to the fact that the legendary Fritz Lang directed it and it was bankrolled by Howard Hughs' RKO studios. Altar's ranch was a favorite among the local badmen since she provided safety food and shelter for them but at the cost of 10% of their illegal take and was making a fairly good living out of it. It seemed that the local sheriff was either totally unaware of what Altar was doing or was being paid off by her to look the other way. It was Altar falling in love with Vern to the dislike of her former lover the fugitive gunfighter Frenchy, Mel Ferrer, that caused sparks and bullets to fly and destroyed the sanctuary that she ran for so long.

    In the end after the usual and customary western-style shoot-out with almost everyone in the cast ending up dead it was the two lovers of Altar, Vern & Frenchy, who rode off in the sunset together forgetting their differences about the rivalry that they had over her.The movie had a very irritating and annoying theme song all through it that made it come across more funny then serious. There's also George"Superman" Reeves playing Wilson who besides being one of the bad guys was also a big ladies man in the movie.
  • First of all I must admit I'm not a fan of westerns, which is a great fault, since there are wonderful master pieces where that genre is concerned.

    "Rancho Notorious" isn't a conventional western, I suppose. It's more like a western with an European touch - Fritz Lang's touch (and also Marlene Dietrich touch). I liked the film, but I don't think it is very good. Still it isn't as bad as Marlene Dietrich used to say on interviews. "Rancho Notorious" reminds me of "Johnny Guitar" (more or less the same kind of photography, the older woman, etc.). But "Johnny Guitar" is, in my opinion, a much better movie. If you are a M. Dietrich fan you should see this film. There is only one thing I don't like with Dietrich in color: her red lips. The shade of that lipstick is not very pretty... on the other hand, she was a beautiful woman.

    If you like Fritz Lang you'll enjoy the movie like I did.
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