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The Moonlighter
Director: Roy Rowland (Dir)
Release Date:   19 Sep 1953
Production Date:   mid-Apr--mid-May 1953 at Motion Picture Center
Duration (in mins):   77
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Cast:   Barbara Stanwyck (Rela)  
    Fred MacMurray (Wes Anderson)  
    Ward Bond (Cole [Gardner])  
    William Ching (Tom Anderson)  
    John Dierkes (Sheriff Daws)  
    Morris Ankrum ([Alex] Prince)  
    Jack Elam (Strawboss)  
    Charles Halton (Clem Usqubaugh)  
    Norman Leavitt (Tidy)  
    Sam Flint (Mr. Mott)  
    Myra Marsh (Mrs. Anderson)  

Summary: In the early 1900s, Wes Anderson is arrested for "moonlighting," a term the locals use for nighttime cattle rustling. Outraged by Wes's crimes, a mob led by rancher baron Alex Prince and his men, refuse to wait for the trial and storm the jail. They seize the hobo Tidy, mistaking him for Wes, and hang him and throw his body in the river. The uproar gives Wes an opportunity to escape, but as he witnesses the senseless killing of the amiable Tidy, he swears revenge. Later, Rela, Wes's former sweetheart, comes to claim his body, and is told a story by Clem Usqubaugh, the undertaker: After the lynching, a mysterious man, claiming to be a relative of Wes, arranges for an expensive funeral for the deceased. At the funeral, the man delivers a eulogy, describing the dead man as a wanderer who was basically good, but discontent with his lack of money. After warning that the ghost of the dead man may seek revenge on the lynchers, he robs the men in attendance, pays the undertaker's bill with the stolen money and escapes. After the undertaker then explains to Rela that the man has not been seen since, she returns home to Rio Hondo and reports to Wes's younger brother Tom, with whom she is now romantically involved, that Wes is still alive. Meanwhile, the vengeful Wes sets fire to Prince's barn, and lassoes and drags to death the mob ringleaders who were instrumental in Tidy's lynching. In a gunfight with two of Prince's men, Wes is shot in the shoulder, so he returns to his mother's house, where he has not been for five years, to hide until he recuperates. Although he had hoped to renew his romance with Rela, she refuses to see him. However, when Wes is lured out of the house by a bobcat threatening the ranch animals, he runs into the self-sufficient Rela, who is also tracking the cat. Although Rela still loves Wes, she has decided on a life with Tom and makes Wes promise not to ruin their plans. In Rio Hondo, at the bank where he works, Tom, who is distracted by Wes's secret reappearance, makes mistakes and is dismissed by the bank president, Mr. Mott. On his way home, Tom is followed by Wes's friend, the outlaw Cole Gardner. Cole is welcomed at the Anderson house after Wes recognizes him, and Cole later convinces Wes to join him in a robbery of the Rio Hondo bank. Because Tom is troubled by his dismissal and has always secretly admired Wes, when he overhears the plans, he decides to join them. Although Wes tries to dissuade him from the outlaw life, Tom argues that he wants the money to marry Rela. During the night, Wes slips out to Rela's ranch and warns her that Tom has gotten the same wandering "bug" that bit him. Wes again tries to renew their romance, but the angry Rela sends him away and warns that if anything happens to Tom, she will hold Wes responsible. On the morning of the holdup, Cole, Wes and Tom enter the bank and take the money. However, as they leave, Mott shoots Tom dead, and Wes and Cole escape in Mott's horseless carriage. Soon a posse is sworn in and begins a search for the two outlaws. Rela convinces the sheriff to deputize her and, as she promised Wes, begins her own search for him. At the hideout, which is concealed by a huge waterfall, Cole doublecrosses Wes and escapes with all the stolen money, leaving him unconscious and tied up. Cole soon encounters Rela and shoots at her, but Rela kills him in the resulting gunfight, then retrieves the stolen money and resumes her search for Wes. She finds him at the cabin and after untying him, takes him at gunpoint toward town. While they are crossing the waterfall, she slips and nearly drowns. Instead of abandoning Rela to make his escape, Wes climbs down and rescues her. At the cabin where Wes treats her injured leg, Rela confides that, while she was drowning, she realized that she drove Wes to moonlighting five years ago with her need for a "perfect relationship." When she admits that she still loves him, Wes tells her that he has decided to turn himself in and asks her to wait for him while he serves his prison sentence. The next day, they cross the waterfall and head for town. 

Production Company: Abtcon Pictures, Inc.  
  J. B. Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Roy Rowland (Dir)
  Horace Hough (Asst dir)
Producer: Joseph Bernhard (Prod)
Writer: Niven Busch (Story and scr)
Photography: Bert Glennon (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Dan Hall (Art dir)
Film Editor: Terry Morse (Supv film ed)
Set Decoration: Fred MacLean (Set dec)
Costumes: Joe King (Ward)
  Ann Peck (Ward)
Music: Heinz Roemheld (Mus comp and dir)
Sound: Vic Appel (Sd)
Special Effects: M. L. Gunzburg (Natural Vision supv)
  Julian Dunzberg M.D. (Visual consultant)
  Howard Schwartz (Natural Vision consultant)
  J. Rabin (Title and eff)
  D. Commons (Title and eff)
Make Up: Del Armstrong (Makeup)
Production Misc: Perc Ikerd (Prod mgr)
Country: United States
Language: English

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
J.B. Productions, Inc. 18/9/1953 dd/mm/yyyy LP2911

PCA NO: 16560
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System
  b&w:
  Widescreen/ratio: Natural Vision 3-D

 
Genre: Western
 
Subjects (Major): Brothers
  Long-lost relatives
  Moral reformation
  Revenge
  Romantic rivalry
  Rustlers
 
Subjects (Minor): Deputies
  False accusations
  Fistfights
  Funerals
  Gunfights
  Lynching
  Mistaken identity
  Mothers and sons
  Outlaws
  Posses
  Ranchers
  Waterfalls

Note: According to an Oct 1952 DV news item, Joseph Bernhard bought the screenplay from writer Niven Busch, planning to produce it for Twentieth Century-Fox release, and was negotiating with Jennifer Jones to star in the film. An Oct 1952 LAT news item added that The Moonlighter was to be a follow-up to Ruby Gentry and would reunite its star, Jones, with the director, King Vidor. The LAT news item reported that Alan Ladd and Kirk Douglas were among the actors being considered for the male lead.
       According to Warner Bros. production notes and HR production charts, portions of the film were shot at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, CA and Gene Autry Ranch in Placerita Canyon, New Hall, CA. The waterfall scene was shot at Peppermist Falls in the High Sierras. Despite the 3-D presentation of the film, which the NYT reviewer claimed served no practical purpose other than exploitation, the HCN reviewer commented that Western film fans were getting used to color and would not be pleased with its black and white photography. The HR review likewise lamented that color would have enhanced the picture. The HR review also noted the novelty of the outlaws in the film using an automobile as a means of escape. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   12 Sep 1953.   
Daily Variety   27 Oct 1952.   
Daily Variety   8 Sep 53   p. 3.
Film Daily   14 Sep 53   p. 6.
Hollywood Citizen-News   26 Sep 1953.   
Hollywood Reporter   27 Oct 1952.   
Hollywood Reporter   17 Apr 53   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   15 May 53   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Sep 53   p. 3.
Los Angeles Times   27 Oct 1952.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   19 Sep 53   p. 1998.
New York Times   23 Sep 53   p. 37.
Variety   9 Sep 53   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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