Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Sixty One: Blood on the Moon
Blood on the Moon is not a Western of incredible depth. It is not profound like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Red River. However, like those films, it is a masterpiece in that Robert Wise and his team master every element of the picture, from acting to lighting to action and story.
Criterion Channel, who currently has this streaming, has included the film in their Western Noir series. I can see what they mean but this is no hybrid Western. Most of the “noir” comes in the lighting, which shines most in the chase scene at night with Mitchum. I’ve always disliked fake moonlight in movie scene and fought my DPs to not use it. I haven’t been strong enough, often caving into their desires. Never again. Wise has reminded me of the power of letting night be night, letting dark be dark, and successfully using motivated light from lanterns/windows, etc. to block the talent. These minutes of the movie alone were an incredible inspiration for me.
But the whole film is solid. I love Mitchum’s performance. Preston shines as the villain. The line right before they draw on each other is one of the great painful moments in cinema between old friends turned enemies. One thing I really admired in the casting is the choices for women, who are pretty but not glamorous; these are the kinds of women I believe lived on the frontier and they make strong choices, going toe to toe with the men.
This taught, thrilling film is not talked about enough and the same goes for Wise, a director who didn’t fall easily into the critics’ ideas of what a filmmaker should be. He could do this and turn right around to make The Haunting. Perhaps one day his versatile choices will be appreciated.
Seen on the Criterion Channel.