Blood on the Moon (1948): Quintessential Noir Western

Blood on the Men (1948)

A drifter becomes embroiled in a violent dispute between an Arizona cattle rancher and local homesteaders. (1948 RKO. Directed by Robert Wise 88 mins)

Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca
Screenplay by Lillie Hayward and Luke Short (adaptation of his novel “Gunman’s Chance”)
Film Editing by Samuel E. Beetley
Art Direction by Albert S. D’Agostino and Walter E. Keller
Original Music by Roy Webb
Starring Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Preston
Filmed on location in Arizona and the RKO Ranch California
Robert Wise also directed: The Set-Up (1949) and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

“A bevy of late ’40s RKO talent, including ace cameraman Nick Musuraca, combine to make an intriguing noir Western. A complex tale of duplicity and split loyalties is played out against a noir backdrop of low-ceilinged bars and rain-soaked windswept darkness. Mitchum delivers his customarily immaculate, stoned performance as a reluctant hired gun duped into heading a trumped-up homesteaders’ revolt, and Bel Geddes plays the spunky cowgirl who engages him in erotic gun-play.” – By NA for the Time Out Film Guide

Blood on the Moon: what a great title for a noir western from a dream RKO film noir team!  Steven H. Scheuer in his Movies on TV guide rates this movie as only 2½ out of 4 stars, but his terse write-off, to my mind perversely establishes its noir credentials: “Murky, violent, post-war western”.

The film weaves a classic noir scenario into a western with all the motifs of the genre: the mysterious drifter with divided loyalties, the virginal rancher’s daughter in britches, the conniving proto-gangster, the crooked Indian-Reservation agent, hired-guns, shout-outs, bar-room brawls, and the Arizona backdrop, while organically integrating the noir elements of the redeemed noir protagonist, doom-laden atmospherics, outbursts of  violence, and vengeance into the story.

Mitchum as the drifter is classic Mitchum, and Barbara Bel Geddes truly engaging as the rancher’s younger daughter, with Robert Preston delivering a competent bad-guy, who in a neat twist is the homme-fatale to the rancher’s older daughter.  The wonderful Walter Brennan is great as an old homesteader, who as an active protagonist personifies the moral underpinnings of the story and its resolution.

But the movie belongs to director Wise and cinematographer Musuruca.  From the opening frame of the drifter’s silhouette riding over  a mountain pass in driving rain in the day’s gloaming, you know you are in noir territory.  The night-for-night scenes use available light and sharp contrasts to develop the dark themes of violence and betrayal, with interior scenes using key lighting and disturbing angular shots to establish risk and menace. The daylight scenes are filmed in classic western-style with deep focus and from higher angles. There is a brilliantly filmed cattle stampede at night in the middle of the film, that has to be text-book.  The score from Roy Webb adapts seamlessly from the dramatic to elegiac scenes of the lone horseman on the plain.

 

12 thoughts on “Blood on the Moon (1948): Quintessential Noir Western”

  1. Tony, I must confess that I’ve never seen BLOOD ON THE MOON! But boy it is an enticing one with the incomparable Mr. Mitchum and that Val Lewton alumni team filling the techs–Mssrs Webb, Musuraca, D’Agostino and Keller! And it has noirish sensibilities—yep this site had to have this one reviewed! I will definitely take a look at this ASAP! Another great review Tony!!!

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  2. Yes, this is a wonderful film, Tony, and I’m quite happy to see you focus on its many admirable attributs. I find it interesting that so many of the collaborators from Out of the Past teamed up the next year for Blood on the Moon.

    I’m speechless, Sam, that you have not seen this yet! Ha, well, none of us can have “seen them all”–it’s very much worth seeking out.

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  3. Sam Juliano said,”Tony, I must confess that I’ve never seen BLOOD ON THE MOON! But boy it is an enticing one with the incomparable Mr. Mitchum and that Val Lewton alumni team filling the techs–Mssrs Webb, Musuraca, D’Agostino and Keller! And it has noirish sensibilities—yep this site had to have this one reviewed! I will definitely take a look at this ASAP”…
    …Hi! Sam Juliano, Do ASAP mean sometime this week? or early next week? Just take a “peek” at the email that I Just sent to you!
    S.J., First, “Walk Softly, Stranger, now “Blood On the Moon”
    What next Sam? …What next?
    Btw, Good, thing that I sometimes read D’Ambra’s past post or I would have missed your “appeal” if you will, let me refer to it as an “appeal” for this title!
    Tks,
    dcd 😉

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  4. Oh! Sam Juliano, now…I get the reason why you used the word “amazing” because of your vast dvd collection!…and you didn’t have this title yet!…ah!…**Slap self on head!**

    dcd 😉

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  5. Tony D’Ambra said, “Dcd, I am inconsolable – you only ’sometimes’ read my posts – how cruel!” Ha!…I don’t think so, with your “widgets” on “all” my blogs!…

    D’Ambra, was your “tongue” firmly planted in your cheek!…as you wrote that comment above!…If not,
    Oh! I am so sorry! if I hurt your feelings, 😉 …but I think you should know me just a “little” by now and know that I would never hurt anyone feelings intentionally, especially, not your feelings.

    First of all, my comment should have read…Btw, Good, thing that I sometimes go back and reread D’Ambra’s current (The word “past” shouldn’t have been used neither…) post or I would have missed your “appeal” if you will, let me refer to it as an “appeal” for this title!)(Believe me, Tony, this is true, I do “reread” your past and current post.)

    The definition of the word “Cruel”
    deliberately and remorselessly causing pain or anguish
    bringing about pain and distress.

    “Cruel” D’Am-bra, I don’t think that I am “cruel” If there was such a thing as “cruel” bones, I don’t think that I would have an entire “cruel” bone in my entire body Antonio, meaning I would never hurt you intentionally. ;)because you have always been so very kind to me and in return, I have alway tried to be very kind, caring, thoughful, gentle and compassionate toward you. Because I like the fact, that you sometimes “wear” your emotions on your sleeve…and I find that very “appealing.”
    The definition of the word “Inconsolable”…
    Inconsolable: so deeply distressed that nobody can offer any effective comfort.
    All I can say is how do you “console” the inconsolable? especially, under this “circumstance,” but, I will give it a try!

    dcd 😉

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  6. Dearest Dcd, I AM sorry, but yes I had my tongue firmly in my cheek. I would never intentionally upset you. Your visits here and elsewhere are like a ray of bright sunshine on a cloudy day.

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