AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Rancho Notorious
Alternate Title: Chuck-a-Luck
Director: Fritz Lang (Dir)
Release Date:   Mar 1952
Production Date:   mid-Mar--early Jun 1951 at Motion Picture Center Studios
Duration (in mins):   86 or 89
Duration (in feet):   8,005
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Cast:   Marlene Dietrich (Altar Keane)  
    Arthur Kennedy (Vern Haskell)  
    Mel Ferrer (Frenchy Fairmont)  
    Gloria Henry (Beth Forbes)  
    William Frawley (Baldy Gunder)  
    Lisa Ferraday (Maxine)  
    John Raven (Chuck-a-luck dealer)  
    Jack Elam (Mort Geary)  
    George Reeves (Wilson)  
    Frank Ferguson (Preacher)  
    Francis McDonald (Harbin)  
    Dan Seymour (Comanche Paul)  
    John Kellogg (Jess Factor)  
    Rodric Redwing (Rio)  
    Lloyd Gough (Kinch)  
    Stuart Randall (Starr)  
    Roger Anderson (Red)  
    Charles Gonzales (Hevia)  
    Felipe Turich (Sanchez)  
    JosĂ© Dominguez (Gonzales)  
    Stan Jolley (Deputy Warren)  
    John Doucette (Whitey)  
    Fuzzy Knight (Barber)  
    Frank Graham (Ace Maguire)  
    Emory Parnell (Sheriff who arrests Vern)  
    Dick Wessel (Deputy who tells story)  
    Dick Elliott (Mike)  
    Wade Crosby (Gunder's bouncer)  
    Russell Johnson (Croupier)  
    Tiny Newlan (Gunsight sheriff)  
    Tom London (Gunsight deputy)  
    Ralph Sanford (Slade)  
    Frank Jaquet (Politician)  
    Edgar Dearing (Sheriff who arrests Kinch)  

Summary: Moments after her fiancĂ©, cowboy Vern Haskell, presents her with a jewel-studded brooch and rides out of town, Beth Forbes is raped and killed in her father's general store by an outlaw named Kinch, who also steals the brooch. Upon seeing his slain sweetheart, Vern seethes with outrage and joins the sheriff's posse. Although the posse stops pursuing Kinch and his cohort, Whitey, when it reaches the boundary of its jurisdiction, Vern, bent on revenge, pushes on alone. Not wanting to share his loot, Kinch, meanwhile, shoots Whitey, then leaves him for dead. Soon after, Vern finds Whitey and demands to know where Kinch has gone, but Whitey can only mutter the word "chuck-a-luck" before expiring. Sure that chuck-a-luck, a casino game, is the key to finding Kinch, Vern queries a barber about it. The man in the next chair overhears Vern and, once alone with him, nervously asks why he wants to know about chuck-a-luck. When Vern refuses to say, the man jumps him, and a vicious fight ensues, ending in the man's death. Vern is arrested, but is released after the sheriff learns that the man, Ace Maguire, was a wanted outlaw. Free but still clueless, Vern then undertakes to discover the whereabouts of Altar Keane, a name mentioned by Ace during the fight. His inquiries eventually lead him to Baldy Gunder, a former saloon owner for whom Altar once worked. The down-and-out Baldy tells Vern about his last encounter with Altar, a former belle of the West: After Baldy fires her for not smiling enough, Altar decides to gamble her last pay on chuck-a-luck. Because the croupier thinks she is shilling, Altar wins big on two tries. Baldy intercedes, but to keep his crooked operation from being exposed, allows her one last bet. At that moment, handsome gunslinger Frenchy Fairmont steps in and insists on spinning the chuck-a-luck wheel himself. Frenchy also manipulates the wheel, and Altar wins a huge sum. Frenchy then persuades Altar to run away with him. Back in the present, Baldy reveals that, while Altar's whereabouts are unknown, Frenchy is now in the Gunsight jail. To meet Frenchy, Vern gets himself arrested on election day and, when Gunsight's crooked sheriff frees some corrupt, incarcerated politicians, Vern takes advantage of the commotion and helps Frenchy to escape. Grateful, Frenchy takes Vern to a secluded horse ranch near the Mexican border, which is run by Altar. After a wary Altar explains to Vern the ranch's "no questions" rule, she introduces him to a group of outlaws who use the ranch, called Chuck-a-Luck, as a hideout. Vern is immediately suspicious of outlaw Wilson, as he is an unabashed ladies man and has a scar down his cheek. Kinch, in turn, has uneasy feelings about the curious newcomer. On the night of her birthday, Altar startles Vern when she appears in a fancy gown, adorned with Beth's brooch. Before Vern can act on his discovery, Marshal Donaldson and Deputy Warren arrive at the ranch, looking for Frenchy. The outlaws manage to hide, and Vern cleverly deflects the lawmen's suspicions. Vern then flirts with Altar, who has since removed her jewels, and kisses her. Later, after Vern shows off the shooting skills he learned from Frenchy, Frenchy informs Altar that he is planning a bank robbery. Altar begs Frenchy not to involve Vern, who she senses is not a hardened criminal, but Frenchy is noncommittal. Kinch then realizes who Vern is when he sees him get on his horse using the same unusual mounting technique he observed outside Beth's general store. Kinch resolves to kill Vern and volunteers to act as a sniper during the robbery. Kinch then convinces Frenchy to bring the unsuspecting Vern along and shoots at him as he is exiting the bank. The shot misses Vern, but a gunfight erupts, and the surviving outlaws are forced to scatter. Later, Vern returns alone to Chuck-a-Luck with Altar's share, and she finally gives in to her attraction. At Vern's urging, Altar dons her gown and jewels and reveals that Kinch sold her the brooch. Enraged, Vern tells her about Beth's murder and rips the brooch off her dress. Vern then finds Kinch at a border cantina and challenges him to a gunfight. Outmatched, Kinch refuses to draw, but before Vern forces the issue, the sheriff shows up. After the bartender confirms that Kinch admitted to Beth's murder, the sheriff arrests Kinch. Meanwhile, a wounded Frenchy arrives at Chuck-a-Luck to find Altar packed and ready to depart. Altar turns the ranch over to Frenchy without explanation, but denies that she is running away with Vern. Just then, Wilson and the other outlaws ride up with Kinch, having freed him from the sheriff, and demand money from Altar for betraying their trust with Vern. A tense showdown ensues, until Vern appears, taking them all by surprise. In a flash, Frenchy kills Kinch, while Vern's quick draw fells Wilson. The remaining outlaws surrender, but after Frenchy orders them to leave, he and Vern discover that Altar took a bullet meant for Frenchy. Altar dies in Frenchy's arms, and now alone, Frenchy rides off with Vern. 

Production Company: Fidelity Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Fritz Lang (Dir)
  Emmett Emerson (Asst dir)
Producer: Howard Welsch (Prod)
Writer: Daniel Taradash (Scr)
  Silvia Richards (Orig story)
Photography: Hal Mohr (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Wiard Ihnen (Prod des)
Film Editor: Otto Ludwig (Ed supv)
Set Decoration: Robert Priestley (Set dec)
Costumes: Joe King (Ward)
  Don Loper (Miss Dietrich's ward des)
Music: Emil Newman (Mus)
Sound: Hugh McDowell (Sd)
  Mac Dalgleish (Sd)
Make Up: Frank Westmore (Makeup artist)
  Nelliemarie Manley (Hair stylist for Miss Dietrich)
Production Misc: Ben Hersh (Prod supv)
Color Personnel: Richard Mueller (Technicolor col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Legend of Chuck-a-Luck," music and lyrics by Ken Darby, sung by William Lee; "Gypsy Davey" and "Get Away Young Man," music and lyrics by Ken Darby.
Composer: Ken Darby

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Fidelity Pictures, Inc. 6/3/1952 dd/mm/yyyy LP1632

PCA NO: 15331
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System
  col: Technicolor

Genre: Western
Sub-Genre: with songs
Subjects (Major): Murder
  Women ranchers
Subjects (Minor): Bank robberies
  Barbers and barbershops
  Dance hall girls
  General stores
  Mexican-American border region
  Romantic rivalry

Note: The working title of this film was Chuck-a-Luck . An unidentified, contemporary source in the AMPAS Library production file for the film lists the title of Silvia Richards' screen story as "Gunsight Whitman." In a modern interview, director Fritz Lang claimed that RKO head Howard Hughes changed the title from Chuck-a-Luck to Rancho Notorious because he felt that European audiences would not be familiar with the casino game. The ballad "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck" is heard over the opening credits and intermittently throughout the picture, and its lyrics comment on the action of the story. Rancho Notorious was the first American film to use a song in this manner. Although Lang recalled in the modern interview that the picture was shot on the General Service Studios lot, HR production charts and news items indicate that it was filmed at the Motion Picture Center Studios. According to Lang, Republic Studios' Western street was also used.
       According to DV news items, Twentieth Century-Fox originally was to distribute the film. Fidelity Pictures, which was in need of cash after spending $900,000 on the production, backed out of the deal when it learned that Fox would not release or pay for the film until 1952. In mid-1951, RKO paid Fidelity between $700,000 and $780,000 in advance for distribution rights. DV notes that Hughes approved the sale in part because it featured one of his contract stars, Mel Ferrer. An Oct 1951 Var news item states that RKO also agreed to give Fox a sixteen percent interest in the picture's profits. According to the same item, Lang and stars Marlene Dietrich and Arthur Kennedy protested the sale, because they feared that additional production costs incurred by RKO would lead to the loss of their partially deferred salaries, which could not be paid out until the film showed a 2.5 million dollar profit.
       In the modern interview, Lang commented that Rancho Notorious "was conceived for Marlene Dietrich" as a picture "about an ageing (but still very desirable) dance hall girl." According to Lang, Dietrich "resented going gracefully into a little, tiny bit older category" and fought with the director throughout the production. Lang also noted that after he delivered his cut of the picture, the "producer" re-edited the film without Lang's approval. Another modern source notes that because actor Lloyd Gough, who plays "Kinch" in the picture, refused to answer questions before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, his name was removed from the screen credits by Hughes. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   16 Feb 1952.   
Daily Variety   10 Jul 1951.   
Daily Variety   12 Sep 1951.   
Daily Variety   6 Feb 52   p. 3, 8
Film Daily   7 Feb 52   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Sep 50   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Mar 51   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Apr 51   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Feb 52   p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   9 Feb 52   p. 1229.
Newsweek   24 Mar 1952.   
New York Times   15 May 52   p. 39.
Variety   24 Oct 51   p. 5, 15
Variety   6 Feb 52   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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