Blood on the Moon (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Blood on the Moon” is a western that manages to transcend some of the cliches of the genre.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

When we first meet Robert Mitchum as Jim Garry, he’s riding through an Indian reservation to reach an old partner of his, Tate Riling (played by Robert Preston).  He’s intercepted by a cattle outfit run by John Lufton.  He tells Garry that Riling is trying to prevent Lufton from getting his cattle off the reservation in time to avoid their confiscation by the government over a voided contract.

When Garry finally reaches Riling, he finds out what kind of job he’s been summoned to perform.  Riling is in cahoots with a federal agent named Pindalest that procures the cattle for the reservation.  They’re trying to force Lufton to sell his cattle for pennies on the dollar and then sell them to Pindalest at the full price with a goodly bribe to Pindalest.  Out of the huge profit Riling will cut Garry in for ten thousand dollars for being the gun hand to make sure nothing interferes with Riling’s plan.

When Riling and his men and the homesteaders that he’s fooled into helping him attack Lufton’s herd they manage to scatter it thoroughly which should be enough to guarantee that Riling’s plan will succeed.  But one of the homesteaders, Kris Bardon (played by Walter Brennan) loses his son in the stampede and Garry decides the whole plan is too dirty for him to go on with.  He quits Riling’s crew and manages to save Lufton’s life when two of Riling’s men were preparing to gun him down.

To further confuse the situation Lufton has two daughters.  Carol Lufton is in love with Riling and has been providing him with information about her father’s plans and actions.  Amy Lufton starts out hating Garry but over the course of the movie as she sees his actions are well-intentioned, she changes her mind and comes to trust him.

When Garry quits the crew Riling goes looking for him and they have a huge brawl in a cantina.  Garry finally knocks Riling out.  When one of Riling’s henchmen gets ready to execute a defenseless Garry, Kris Bardon shoots the gun hand.  Now Garry goes to Lufton and reveals the whole plan about Riling conspiring with Pindalest to steal the herd.  They come up with a plan to defeat it.

Garry goes to Pindalest as if he’s still working with Riling and tells him to suspend the government’s seizure order on Lufton’s herd and creates a ruse that has Pindalest go with him out into the mountains to give Lufton enough time to gather the herd and bring it off the reservation.  The ruse succeeds up to a point but then an Indian whose friends with Riling tips him off that Pindalist is being stalled by Garry.  Riling and his men come after Garry and in an altercation, Garry is stabbed and Pindalist is rescued.

A badly wounded Garry escapes to Kris Bardon’s cabin where Amy Lufton joins them to nurse Garry’s wound.  Soon Riling, Pindalist and one other gunman show up and surround the cabin while Bardon and Amy hold them off with rifles.  That night Garry, sensing that eventually the outlaws would manage to overcome the defense, tells Bardon and Amy to provide a diversion while he slips out the door and sneaks behind the gunmen and takes them on.

He manages to pistol whip Pindalist into unconsciousness and shoot the other gunman.  And in the final confrontation he shoots it out with his former friend Riling.  Garry is victorious and he reappears at the cabin.  Later John Lufton and his men appear at the cabin.  They take Pindalist into custody for delivery to the marshal.  And as the drama ends Amy tells her father of her plans to marry Jim Garry.

Although this western was made during the heyday of that genre, this production differed substantially from the typical black hat, white hat conflict.  Mitchum’s character is more reminiscent of the characters he usually portrayed in film noirs where he would be a small time criminal or a gun for hire.  He straddles the line between good and evil pretty thoroughly until almost the end of the movie.  And that’s what keeps the movie from devolving into a typical good guy, bad guy shootout.  Mitchum and Preston manage to keep the battle between light and darkness alive and interesting throughout the movie.  The rest of the cast isn’t afforded much opportunity to rise above the normal western tropes.  The two actresses in love with Garry and Riling are given fairly stereotypical plot and dialog for those roles and the other parts fairly equally follow the conventions of the genre.  But Mitchum and Preston provide the fireworks and it boosts the movie well above the average.  Highly recommended for fans of westerns and fans of Robert Mitchum.

Out of the Past (1947) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is one of the quintessential film noirs.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Robert Mitchum is Jeff Bailey, an auto repair shop owner living in a small town.  He has a girl, Ann Miller who is in love with him and a deaf-mute boy who helps him with his shop.  But he is hiding from his past.  He was Jeff Markham, a private detective that was sent on an assignment by underworld boss Whit Sterling (played with good natured panache by Kirk Douglas) to find a girl who stole $40,000 from Whit and shot him for good measure.  The girl, Kathie Moffat is hiding out in Mexico and while staking her out Jeff falls entirely in love with her and the two run away to live their lives far from Whit Sterling.

But Jeff’s partner Jack Fisher, hunts them down and demands the $40,000 to keep from telling Sterling about their double cross.  During a fistfight between Jeff and Fisher Kathie shoots Fisher dead.  While Jeff buries Fisher’s body Kathie skips out on him.  Jeff decides to take on the new identity as Jeff Bailey and settles in the small town of Bridgeport, California.

But now one of Whit Sterling’s men arrives in Bridgeport and recognizes Jeff.  He summons Jeff to Whit’s summer house on Lake Tahoe.  When Jeff gets there, he finds Kathie has reconciled with Whit and now it’s Jeff’s turn to square accounts with the underworld boss.  There is a complicated scenario where Jeff is supposed to recover some tax documents that Whit’s accountant is using to blackmail him.  But it’s really a set-up whereby Jeff will be the fall guy for the accountant’s murder.  And, of course, Kathie is part of the double cross too.  There are a number of reversals but finally Jeff arranges a deal with Sterling such that Kathie will be on the hook for Fisher’s murder and Jeff will be cleared of all the various crimes he’s been framed for in return for the return of the tax documents.

But Kathie decides to upend the deal by murdering Sterling.  Now she and Jeff are on the run for the various murders that have been committed and Jeff realizes that he’ll never have that small town life he tried to escape to.  He and Kathie die in a hail of bullets as he drives their car into a police ambush.

Interspersed between the action scenes we have the love story between Jeff and Ann.  She’s a gentle woman who believes that Jeff has a good side that exists beneath the tough persona that he projects to the world.  And her belief in him propels him to try and escape from the criminal existence that Kathie has drawn him into.  But fate eventually claims his life and leaves Ann to mourn him.

As with all good film noir, the plot is an awful mess.  All of their terrible choices propel the protagonists to their bleak fates.  But the movie is a pleasure to watch.  Mitchum is at the top of his game with a tightly knit plot and lots of great lines to toss off.  Kirk Douglas is an affable crime boss and adds a lot to the film.  Kathie is a wonderfully dishonest femme fatale and is constantly double-crossing everyone in sight.  And the rest of the supporting cast is fine too.  I highly recommend this movie for film noir devotees and basically anyone who likes a good story.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) – A Movie Review

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

“The Friends of Eddie Coyle” is a crime drama that takes place in and around Boston.  Robert Mitchum is Eddie Coyle, a small-time member of an Irish gang who is about to be sentenced for a truck hijacking that he did for another gangster named Dillon who is played by Peter Boyle.  Because Eddie doesn’t want to do anymore time he agrees to act as an informant to ATF agent Dave Foley.  He informs on the gun runner Jackie Brown who has been providing Eddie with pistols for use by a bank robbing gang being run by Eddie’s friend Jimmy Scalise.

At the same time, we discover that Eddie’s associate Dillon is also providing information to Foley too.  Eventually Dillon provides information on Scalise’s operation and the gang gets busted.  When both Jackie Brown and Scalise both get taken down by ATF the head of the gang decides that Eddie is responsible for the leaks and sends his hitman to kill Eddie.  And ironically the hitman is Dillon.

The movie consists of the various crimes, the gun-running and the bank robberies along with Eddie’s and Dillon’s meetings with Dave Foley.  The movie’s strengths are the dialog and the portrayal of these characters.  Listening to them justify the various and contradictory actions they take rings true.  Even Eddie’s relationship with his wife and family demonstrates what a hopeless mess his life is.  And the ending where Dillon takes Eddie to a Bruins hockey game and gets him black out drunk before executing him in a car ride into the suburbs is completely believable and emblematic of the faithless fraternity that these men inhabit.

Living in New England I asked a friend of mine what he thought about the somewhat recent Boston mob movie, “The Departed.”  He said that the legitimate quintessential New England mob movie was the “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”  And I agree with him completely.  This movie feels about right as a representation of Boston corruption.  Whether it’s gangsters or crooked politicians this is what that world looks and feels like.  It’s petty and disloyal and penny-ante and very, very local.  There’s nothing grandiose and nothing heroic.  It’s gritty and believable.

If you like crime movies that reek of small-timer sweat, this is it.