Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 13, 2020)
Back in 1962, actor Gregory Peck, producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan teamed for To Kill a Mockingbird, a cinematic classic. That group came back six years later for 1968’s The Stalking Moon.
Based on Theodore V. Olsen’s 1965 novel, Army soldiers rounds up a group of Indians. Among them, they find white female Sarah Carver (Eva Marie Saint) and her half-Apache son (Noland Clay).
Set to retire from the military, former scout Sam Varner (Peck) agrees to escort Sarah and her son to a new home. However, the boy’s violent, murderous father Salvaje (Nathaniel Narcisco) pursues them, a factor that adds to the voyage’s risk.
Although the Western never really died, it went pretty dormant for a good couple of decades. The genre petered out in the 1970s and barely registered a pulse in the 1980s before 1990’s Dances with Wolves and 1992’s Unforgiven helped renew the form somewhat.
Thus Moon came out right at the tail end of the genre’s dominant run. Though I couldn’t find much information, the film didn’t seem to earn a particularly positive reception in 1968, as the handful of contemporaneous reviews I located appeared to view it as decent at best.
And I can’t argue with those appraisals, as nothing about Moon screams “lost gem”. Professional and sporadically vaguely interesting, the movie never rises above a level of general mediocrity.
Which feels like a disappointment given the talent involved. Though I think Mulligan peaked with Mockingbird, Pakula and Peck clearly enjoyed many other fine films, and the inclusion of Saint and Robert Forster ups the ante.
Unfortunately, none of them can make this a truly involving tale, a surprise given the life and death stakes. Shouldn’t a movie in which a homicidal madman pursues a party come with ample suspense and drama?
It should, but in the case of Moon it doesn’t. Though we tend to hear a lot about the impending menace, we rarely feel the threat.
Much of Moon fancies itself as a domestic tale. This means seemingly interminable scenes during which Sam, Sarah and the boy form a little family in the middle of nowhere.
If these sequences mustered any charm or depth, they might work. Instead, they feel like placeholders that deepen the characters’ personal connection in a generic way but no more than that.
Eventually Moon does get around to more action-oriented ambitions, but these moments feel like too little, too late. The film offers a slow character tale that never threatens to turn into something genuinely winning.