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Warner Archive delivers the goods with unconventional Western “Blood on the Moon”

Updated: Sep 5, 2022


Robert Mitchum plays drifter Jim Garry, who’s planning to work with old friend Tate Riling (Robert Preston).

(Click an image to scroll through the larger versions)


Blu-ray, 1948, not rated

Best extra: Trailer

WHY DOES “Blood on the Moon” belong in your library? Pick a reason.

It stars the incomparable Robert Mitchum, fresh off his breakout role in the noir classic “Out of the Past.” It’s directed by Robert Wise, who skippered, for starters, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), “West Side Story” (1961), “The Haunting” (1963) and “The Sound of Music” (1965). Nicholas Musuraca, the cameraman for “Out of Past” and Oscar nominee for “I Remember Mama” (1948), is the cinematographer.

But Reason No. 1 is because it’s another feather in the cap of The Warner Archive Collection. The original nitrate negative (1.37:1 aspect ratio) was scanned in 4K, cleaned up manually and transferred in 1080p, delivering a pristine print replete with a consistent, cinematic grain, a broad, nuanced grayscale and deep, defined shadows.

(1) The RKO production was filmed in Sedona, Arizona, and the hills west of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County. (2&3) Garry had just set up camp when he was nearly killed by a herd of runaway steers. (4) Cowhand Bart Daniels (Robert Bray) for John Lufton, will take Garry to their camp for food and new gear.

(1&2) Cattleman John Lufton (Tom Tully) and his foreman Cap Willis (Bud Osborne) question Garry if he's one of Riling's hired guns. They tell how their cattle had grazed on the Indian Reservation for five years and provided them beef, but the new Indian agent Jake Pindalest wants them gone.


Which is what fans have come to expect. WAC did likewise with the just-released “Rachel and the Stranger,” another Mitchum Western also released in 1948, and is amassing a catalog that rivals those of The Criterion Collection and Olive Films.

But where “Rachel” was a gentle romance, “Blood on the Moon” is straight out of the film noir playbook, minus the rainy back alleys, tough guys in fedoras and double-dealing dames.

Mitchum plays Jim Garry, a drifter who’s recruited by an old friend, Tate Riling (Robert Preston, “The Music Man”), and winds up in the middle of a dispute between cattleman John Lufton (Tom Tully, “The Caine Mutiny”) and a group of homesteaders. It’s all been orchestrated by Riling, with the help of crooked Indian agent Jake Pindalest (Frank Faylen, “It’s a Wonderful Life”).

The government has given Lufton a week to move his cattle off the reservation, but the homesteaders, who’ve been organized by Riling – they believe he’s on their side – stand in the way. Riling figures Lufton will have no choice but to sell the herd cheaply to him, then will make a killing when he, in turn, sells it to the government. That’s where Garry comes in: He’ll pocket $10,000 to be Riling’s go-between. Lufton, though, manages to move the cattle before the deadline, but Riling and his men stampede them back onto the reservation. There’s no way Lufton can round them up in time.

(1) Lufton’s headstrong daughter Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes) shoots first and asks questions later while guarding the river crossing. (2) Garry returns fire to scare her while carrying a message from her father. (3) Garry arrives at the Blockhouse Ranch, and Amy takes aim again. (4) Amy, and her sister Carol (Phyllis Thaxter) and Ted Elser (Tom Keene). All right, youve delivered the note. Now get out, says Elser.


Garry has a change of heart when a young man, the son of homesteader Kris Barden (Walter Brennan, “My Darling Clementine”), is killed during the stampede. He “convinces” Pindalest to give Lufton an extension, then drags the agent off to the high country. Riling and a couple of his goons track him down and shoot him, which leads to a climactic showdown at Barden’s cabin. Lufton’s headstrong daughter Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes, TV’s “Dallas”), who was suspicious of Garry at first but has a change of heart, too, helps hold the bad guys off while Jim sneaks up behind them.


Now, back to the transfer: It does Musuraca’s camerawork justice, and then some. The story begins with a late-night rainstorm and traverses all kinds of terrain, including a snowstorm in said high country. Much of in it takes place in the shadows. The picture is flawless at every turn,

The DTS-HD Master Audio track is up to the task, too. Dialogue is clean and clear and there’s plenty of room for the gunfire, weather effects and the dynamic score courtesy of Roy Webb, another alumni of “Out of the Past.”

The lone extra is the trailer, but check it out anyway. Not only does it have archival appeal, it illustrates the bang-up job WAC did in the remastering room.

Long story short: “Blood on the Moon” isn’t your typical Western. That’s another reason to get it.

- Craig Shapiro

(1) Homesteaders Kris Barden (Walter Brennan) and Milo Sweet (Charle McGraw) wonder if Garry is working for Lufton. (2) Old friend Tate Riling (Robert Preston) welcomes Garry and eventually tells him of his cattle scheme. (3) Back at the bar. (4) Riling leads the stampede of Lufton’s cattle.


(1) Garry wants out of the deal since Riling double-crossed the homesteaders and used one of the Lufton daughters. “I’ve seen dogs who wouldn’t claim you for a son, Tate,” says Garry. (2) Actor Iron Eyes Cody as Toma of the Shoshonean Nation. The son of Italian immigrants, he sold himself as a Native American actor and worked to help indigenous causes. His most famous role was “Keep America Beautiful” campaign of the 1970s. (3) Carol wishes she could get word to her father about Riling’s rotten deal.

The final showdown between Tate Riling and Jim Garry.




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