Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The notorious ranch

Another of the movies I finally got around to watching off of my DVR that just happens to be available on DVD is Rancho Notorious.

The movie starts off the opening credits, over some some about the "legend of Chuck-a-Luck"; more on that later. After that, we get to some town in Wyoming where Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy) in town at the bank, where he sees his fiancée. However, she's not long for the world, as some criminal comes into the place and while she's alone in there, gets her to open the safe, at which point the criminal steals all the gold and kills Vern's fiancée! Needless to say, Vern is none too happy about this.

So Vern vows to find the man who murdered his fiancée. His initial investigations run in to the murderer's partner in crime, who has just been shot for wanting to split the gold now instead of at Chuck-a-Luck. Vern meets up with the shot partner-in-crime just before that guy finally kicks the bucket, and his last action is to whisper the word "Chuck-a-Luck" to Vern. Obviously, this is a reference to something other than the gambling game, but what?

Vern goes around the West, getting from one place to another amazingly quickly it seems and eventually finding out that there was some woman named Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) and that apparently, Chuck-a-Luck is her ranch near the border, a place where various criminals hide out from the authorities in exchange for giving a portion of their loot to her. Vern only learns the story in dribs and drabs, until one night in prison he meets outlaw Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer). Frenchy is on his way to Chuck-a-Luck to escape the authorities as well as to see Altar again, since he likes to think of himself as her romantic interest.

Things change, of course, when Vern gets to Chuck-a-Luck. He's trying to find the guy who killd his fiancée, but while at the ranch, he begins to fall in love with Altar, which needless to say causes all sorts of problems, since Frenchy is none too happy about it and all the other outlaws there don't exactly trust Frenchy for having brought Vern here. Eventually Vern does find the guy who killd his fiancée and there's a showdown....

Rancho Notorious is a film that, I think, should be better than it is. It's a western directed by Fritz Lang, a fact which by itself ought to make the movie an interesting proposition. And yet, I was underwhelmed by it. I think part of the problem is with the casting. I find Mel Ferrer and especially Arthur Kennedy to have all the charisma of a wet sponge. Kennedy is supposed to play the romantic lead here? Seriously? The plot also came across to me as a bit pedestrian, and not in a good way. Sure there are a lot of formulaic westerns (well, in every genre) that manage to be quite entertaining; the last western I blogged about, The Train Robbers, is one that I think ultimately succeeds more than it fails. Rancho Notorious, on the other hand, never game me that vibe.

Which brings me to the other big problem I have with the movie, which is that theme song. It's terrible, and badly used. There are odd songs that can make a movie interesting; the song about the "woman with a whip" in the Barbara Stanwyck western Forty Guns, and its placement in the movie, is a good example. But the "Legend of Chuck-a-Luck" is didactic at best and heavy-handed at worst.

Start with Lang's other two westerns, The Return of Frank James and Western Union.

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