Blood on the Moon
Blood on the Moon

Wise described BLOOD ON THE MOON as his "first big feature." It was also his first Western. (He would go on to make two more in the '50s.)

Robert Mitchum and George Cooper

Robert Mitchum and George Cooper

The film, which was based on a serialized novel from the Saturday Evening Post, won Wise critical attention, particularly for the famous bar-room brawl between stars Robert Mitchum and Robert Preston—a point in the movie which Wise himself called "the most distinctive scene in the whole film." To make the fight as realistic as possible, Wise asked Mitchum and Preston to "go at it really all the way so that even the winner is almost completely exhausted at the end."* The result, according to a New York Times critic, "ought to satisfy most savage instincts" and said about Wise: "...a comparative newcomer to directorial ranks...has managed to keep the atmosphere of this leisurely paced film charged with impending violence."*

Fourteen years later, Wise would direct Mitchum again in a very different kind of film—the urban romantic comedy TWO FOR THE SEESAW.

Synopsis After he is nearly trampled by a herd of runaway steers while camping on Indian reservation range land, Jim Garry is questioned by the herd's owner, John Lufton.  The wary Lufton reveals to Jim that, after years of supplying the local reservation with beef, he is being forced out by Jake Pindalest, the new Indian agent.  Lufton is also fighting rancher Tate Riling, who has organized the area homesteaders to prevent him from moving his cattle back to the basin grazing land that was once his.  Although suspicious that Jim may be one of Tate's hired guns, Lufton asks him to deliver a note to his family, who have a house in the basin.  As Jim approaches the spread, he is shot at by a woman, who turns out to be Lufton's Poster daughter Amy. After Jim hands the note to Lufton's eldest daughter Carol, he meets with Tate, an old friend who had summoned him in a letter.  Tate reveals to Jim that his true plan is to force Lufton, who must soon vacate the reservation, to sell his cattle to him at a cutrate price and then sell the herd to Pindalest, with whom he is in league, at an inflated rate. Because he is broke, Jim agrees to become one of Tate's henchmen, but expresses no enthusiasm for the scheme. The next day, Carol and Amy ride to meet their father at the basin crossing point indicated in his note.  When they arrive, however, they are greeted by Tate, Jim and the gang.  Amy reveals that her father deliberately wrote the wrong location on the note and angrily accuses Jim of betraying its contents.  Unknown to Amy, Carol, who is in love with Tate, relayed the information to him and later agrees to tell him where her father actually crossed.  Soon after, as Amy informs Lufton about Jim, Tate and his men storm into their cattle camp and start a stampede.  During the ensuing chaos, one of Lufton's cowboys is trampled to death and homesteader Fred Barden is shot.  A saddened Jim informs Fred's father Kris, a former avid supporter of Tate's efforts, about his son's death and then rides into town. There Jim saves Lufton when he is almost gunned down in the street by Frank Reardan and Joe Shotten, Tate's other hired guns. After a grateful Amy apologizes to him, Jim leaves town.  While stopped at a cantina, however, he is confronted by Tate, who now wants him to make the purchase offer to Lufton.  Disgusted by his friend's greediness, Jim refuses to help, and the two men fight each other until Jim knocks Tate unconscious. The exhausted, wounded Jim is then saved by Kris, who shows up with a gun just as Reardan is about to shoot him.  After Amy lovingly tends to his injuries, Jim suggests to Lufton that he can help delay Pindalest's deadline by a week, enough time for the rancher to round up his now-scattered cattle. Believing that Jim intends to kill the agent, Lufton refuses his offer, and Jim leaves the ranch in a huff. Amy, however, convinces Jim to execute his plan with Pindalest.  To that end, Jim confers with the agent and, posing as Tate's go-between, tells him that Tate is demanding $3,000 more for Lufton's cattle.  As hoped, Pindalest declares that he must go to town for the extra cash, and once he and Jim are in the open range, Jim reveals his intention to hold the agent captive until Lufton has rounded up his cattle.  The next morning, however, as a snowstorm blows in, Jim is ambushed and knifed by an Indian who is in cahoots with Tate. Although Jim soon overwhelms the Indian, Pindalest escapes, and Jim flees to Kris's ranch.  A concerned Amy soon arrives there and insists on fighting Tate, Reardan and Pindalest alongside Kris.  As the gunfire starts, Amy and Jim declare their love for each other. Eventually, Jim regains enough strength to sneak out of the ranch house and surprise Reardan and Pindalest.  Jim then outdraws Tate, who dies in his friend's arms.  With Pindalest in custody, Jim and Amy announce their impending marriage to a delighted Lufton.

From the AFI Catalog of Feature Films

Wise Facts
  • James Stewart was originally scheduled to star in the film.
  • The story takes place after the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862, which granted free family farms to settlers.
  • Credits: 88 min. RKO Radio Pictures; Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures;  Directed by: Robert Wise;  Produced by: Theron Warth;  Screenplay by: Lillie Hayward;  Edited by: Samuel E. Beetley;  Director of Photography: Nicholas Musuraca;  Music by: Roy Webb;  Production Design by: Albert S. D'Agostino & Walter E. Keller;  Sound by: John L. Cass;  Gowns by: Edward Stevenson;  Make-up by: Gordon Bau;  Hair by: Hazel Rogers.
    Robert Mitchum Cast  Robert Mitchum (Jim Garry), Barbara Bel Geddes (Amy Lufton), Robert Preston (Tate Riling), Walter Brennan (Kris Barden), Phyllis Thaxter (Carol Lufton), Frank Faylen (Jake Pindalest), Tom Tully (John Lufton), Charles McGraw (Milo Sweet), Clifton Young (Joe Shotten), Tom Tyler (Frank Reardan), George Cooper (Fred Barden), Richard Powers (Ted Elser), Bud Osborne (Cap Willis), Zon Murray (Nels Titterton), Robert Bray (Bart Daniels), Al Ferguson (Chet Avery), Ben Corbett (Mitch Moten), Joe Devlin (Barney), Erville Alderson (Settlmeir), Robert Malcolm (Sheriff Manker), Chris-Pin Martin (Bartender at Commissary), Ruth Brennan (Townswoman), Harry Carey Jr. (Cowboy), Hal Taliaferro (Cowboy), Al Murphy (Cowboy), and Iron Eyes Cody (Toma).

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    1. AFI Catalog of Feature Films
    2. AFI Catalog of Feature Films

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