"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Stalking Moon (NGP, 1968)

Well worth it

What a great Western actor Gregory Peck was.

In some ways, perhaps, he was the wrong choice for this particular movie because stalwart hero that he is, you know he’s going to win through, whereas if they had cast someone more vulnerable, more fallible, the tension would have been greater. But that's a quibble: he is fine here.

Peck is an aging Indian scout retiring to a small (and very beautiful) ranch in New Mexico who finds himself, almost accidentally, with a woman, Eva Marie Saint, and her half-breed son, Noland Clay. The boy’s father, a Navajo warrior, wants him back and leaves death and destruction in his wake as he closes in on the ranch and a siege begins. The Navajo hunter is cleverly portrayed; he is only ever glimpsed through most of the movie but the results of his destructive power are seen. There is a real sense of menace.

The movie was shot by the highly talented Charles Lang in the Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada and it’s visually superb. There’s a lovely pink wash to the print.

The story (Alvin Sargent and Wendell Mayes from a novel by Theodore V Olsen) ranges from Arizona to Colorado to New Mexico. The film is well directed by Robert Mulligan and there are some nice touches. The tension builds and you know that when Peck and his new family are settled on their idyllic ranch, horror and death are on their inevitable way.
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Eve’s cheekbones and hair are in remarkably good shape considering she is said to have been brutalized for ten years by the Navajo. The boy is supposed to be torn between two cultures but he doesn’t really show that. You can’t blame the actor; he was only ten or something.

Robert Forster is rather good as Peck’s scout friend who comes to warn him and fights with him. Peck is at his splendid best in the early part of the film when he takes pity on the woman and child and takes them with him. His combination of tough and tender is hard to beat. A solid, quality Western, probably a three-revolver picture but Peck bumped it to four, well worth a visit to a movie theater if it’s on and a DVD purchase if it isn't.


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