Blood on the Moon (1948)

Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Lillie Hayward

Seeing Robert Mitchum in Pursued just felt right. While I was middling on the film overall, Mitchum is the type of actor who just feels at home in the west. He has a gruff and hardened shell which makes his persona feel as if he walked straight out of a saloon and rode into Hollywood on his horse. So I was delighted to get another opportunity to see him in action in Blood on the Moon, a film which offers plenty of exciting new opportunities. This is a Robert Wise directed film. What could he bring to the genre that is new and different? Wise is more a journeyman filmmaker, but he has made some really good ones. Barbara Bel Geddes stars as the female lead. I loved her in Vertigo, but have not had the opportunity to see her in any other roles. Will she be just as likable as she is as Midge?

Mitchum plays Jim Garry, a hired gun who has been called to duty by his friend Tate Riling (Robert Preston) in a dispute between cattlemen and homesteaders. Riling claims to represent the homesteader, who is defending their newfound home on the frontier from John Lufton (Tom Tully), who stakes claim to all the land in the valley for his cattle. Garry is initially stopped by Lufton on his way into town, but gets by claiming he is a drifter passing through, but he soon discovers that his friend Riling is not quite who he claims to be. Garry must decide where he stands in the dispute, all the while falling in love with the daughter of Lufton (Barbara Bel Geddes), who initially met him with a flurry of warning shots.

The success of this film begins and ends with Robert Mitchum, who I believe, western or not, is an endlessly interesting and watchable actor. He has an aura about him, the way he carries himself which is just fascinating to behold. He commands the screen. The rest of the cast here is fine as well, certainly nothing to knock, but nothing that stands out either, Bel Geddes included even if she is the most interesting counterpart to Mitchum as he makes his way through the story. The character of Garry too is written to be sort of ambiguous. Certainly he is what he is, but we get no real history for where he comes from, how he knows Riling, what would motivate him to do the right thing versus helping his friend, and as a result himself, make a lot of money.

And yet the film never grabbed me past Mitchum. It has its elements. It’s a classic western tale, a dispute between cattlemen and homesteaders. It even features a sequence in snow. Snowy westerns are very much a thing, if rare, but the snow seen here is the first I can remember during the marathon. I may be mistaken, as 51 films have come before Blood on the Moon, but if I am correct, that’s an interesting first for the film. In more recent years, Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight has shown what a snowy western can be like. It’s an awesome sub-genre and one I will certainly be excited to revisit. However, this is not a full snowy western, but I thought it was well worth mentioning its appearance.

But otherwise, Blood on the Moon fails to stand out among the many other westerns I have seen. It certainly does not rank at or near the bottom, there is enough here to attract genre enthusiasts and those looking for a short trek west. For instance, the “meet cute” between Garry and Amy Lufton (Bel Geddes) is a nice sequence which features them shooting at each other in a playful way. But the twists of Riling, the competition between Lufton and the homesteaders, at this point it all feels so standard, and Wise does nothing to make this particular version of the story stand out in any way. Come for Robert Mitchum, don’t stay for anything else and simply pass through Blood on the Moon like a cowboy drifter.

★★ 1/2 – Average

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