Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 6, 2020)
Given its title, one might expect 1948’s Blood on the Moon to provide a science-fiction tale. Instead, the film indulges in the Western genre.
Former rancher Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) falls on hard times. Eager for work, he responds when his old pal Tate Riling (Robert Preston) invites him to New Mexico with the promise of employment.
Tate wants Jim to act as “muscle” to work out a dispute between homesteaders and cattle ranchers. As it happens, Tate comes with ulterior motives of his own, and those force Jim to choose between his financial concerns and his conscience.
With Moon, we find a fairly early effort from noted director Robert Wise. Of course, Wise’s initial claim to fame came as editor of 1941’s legendary Citizen Kane, but he leapt to the director’s chair in 1944 and made Moon as his eighth effort in that role.
Back in the 1940s, Wise established himself as a director of crime thrillers, so even early in his career, Moon represented a departure. It didn’t start a trend, though – as far as I can tell, Wise never made another Western.
Based on Moon, I can’t claim to view this as a negative. While not a poor movie, Moon lacks much to make it soar.
Wise simply displays little feel for the material. He can’t find a good connection to the characters or themes, so Wise seems a bit adrift with this narrative.
Not that Moon comes with an especially concise tale, as it tends to ramble somewhat. Some of this stems from the nature of the project, as it casts a semi-broad net to encompass more roles than it can handle.
Whereas the movie seems like it should primarily stick with Garry, it branches off onto tangents more often than one might expect. While Garry remains the focal point, the story veers away from him too often, and those choices ensure a less than focused experience.
Even when we do concentrate on the lead, the muddled nature of the plot becomes an issue. The film fails to explain the conflicts and motivations particularly well, so we get a tale that never grabs the viewer.
Character areas follow predictable paths. Inevitably, Garry meets a potential love interest via Amy Lufton (Barbara Bel Geddes), the daughter of main cattle rancher John Lufton (Tom Tully).
We get a good intro to their relationship, as Garry and Amy provide one of the wildest “meet cute” scenes I’ve witnessed. After that, though, their sequences seem bland and perfunctory, as if the movie includes romance out of a sense of obligation.
I do like the cast of Moon, as in addition to Mitchum, Bel Geddes and Preston, we get some notables like Phyllis Thaxter, Walter Brennan and a mix of recognizable character actors. All seem competent, but none can elevate the dull material.
And “dull” feels like a good description for Moon. It gets too bogged down in a flat overall narrative and can’t overcome its inherent flaws to muster a rousing tale.