BLOOD ON THE MOON (director: Robert Wise; screenwriters: Lillie Hayward/from the novel by Luke Short; cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca; editor: Samuel E. Beetley; music: Roy Webb; cast: Robert Mitchum (Jim Garry), Barbara Bel Geddes (Amy Lufton), Robert Preston (Tate Riling), Tom Tully (John Lufton), Walter Brennan (Kris Barden), Phyllis Thaxter (Carol Lufton), Charles McGraw (Milo Sweet), Frank Faylen (Jake Pindalest), Tom Tyler (Frank Reardon), Clifton Young (Joe Shotten), George Cooper (Fred Barden), Bud Osborne (Cap Willis, foreman of Lufton's ranch), Richard Powers (Ted Elser), Harry Carey Jr. (Cowboy); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Theron Warth; RKO; 1948)

"Above average western."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Wise ("The Haunting"/"The Set-Up"/"West Side Story") directs this above average western. The photography by Nicholas Musuraca imbues it with a shadowy film noir b/w look. Wise has said that this was his "first big feature." Writer Lillie Hayward's script digs deep for the psychological intensities needed to make the melodramatic moments sizzle, as she adapts it from the novel by Luke Short. Rising star at the time Robert Mitchum, as the brooding luckless rugged cowboy with a change of heart after suffering from pangs of conscience, gives the film a lift with his moving dark portrayal as the reluctant gunslinger for hire. The film's traditional plot of homesteaders in a range war with ranchers has been seen too often, but this straightforward depiction of that plot does it as good as its ever been done.

The hard-luck broke drifter Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) has been promised a big money job by his ex-partner of two years ago Tate Riling (Robert Preston), and sneaks into town through the hills to see him. The scheming crooked Tate has a wild scheme to bilk big rancher John Lufton (Tom Tully) of his herd and in the process make suckers out of the naive small ranchers who side with him in revolting against the big rancher without realizing that Tate's only using them to fight his battle. Hired gunslingers Reardon (Tom Tyler) and Shotten (Clifton Young) turn off Jim with their bad vibes, who sees himself as just a cowpoke who made a few bad decisions but is not a hired gun. Jim also feels uncomfortable dealing with Tate's partner in the scheme--the crooked new Indian agent Pindalest (Frank Faylen). The agent's part in the scam is to refuse to buy Lufton's steers to feed the reservation and thereby force Lufton to sell the steers at a ridiculously low price to the stranger Jim, who he will not know is working for Tate.

Garry can't go through with the crooked scheme after the son of small rancher Kris Barden (Walter Brennan) is accidently killed. He also has a few run-ins with Lufton's feisty younger daughter Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes) and after a bad start the two become lovers, as Jim switches side and has the film's centerpiece barroom fistfight with Tate.

Lufton's oldest daughter Carol (Phyllis Thaxter) has become the oily Tate's lover, who promised her marriage after he gets some money. She feeds him info on where pop keeps the cattle until she learns that Tate was only using her.

Things are neatly resolved in a climactic shootout between Tate and a badly wounded Jim. In the end, Jim's luck changes, as he picked the right side and has Amy's father approve their marriage plans.

If you like Mitchum's usual detached act, you'll love this flick.

REVIEWED ON 9/27/2010       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"