Wednesday, May 5, 2021


Another of the movies that I recently got around to watching to try to free up some space on my DVR is Moonrise.

In a prologue, we see the silhouette of a man being hanged for murder, while kids beng kids, taunt the son of the hanged man, Danny Hawkins. For whatever reason, these kids being kids are far worse than in real life, and the taunting continues into adulthood, as they all believe that Danny has "bad blood". The taunting is led by Jerry Sykes (Lloyd Bridges), a man that as it turns out a lot of people have a reason not to like.

One person, however, who doesn't seem to dislike Jerry is local teacher Gilly Johnson (Gail Russell). She was all set to get married to Jerry, while Danny kind of likes her. At a dance, Jerry teases Danny one time too many, and and Danny responds by picking up a rock and hitting Jerry with it. Unfortunately, this is enough to kill Jerry, and in a panic, Danny doesn't know what to do, although he's fortunate that the exchange took place in a swamp so nobody will find the body for quite some time. The bad news is that Danny accidentally left his pocket knife at the scene, and it's a very distinctive knife.

With Jerry out of the way, Danny tries being nice to Gilly, and she likes his niceness. But Danny is also racked by guilt, and to be fair, he probably should since he killed a guy, even if the guy was a fairly distasteful person. Danny's guilt causes him to do some rather nasty things like get in a car accident, kick a hound dog that finds Jerry's body, strangle the deaf-mute (Harry Morgan) who finds the pocketknife, or jump off a Ferris wheel because he thinks the sheriff is on to him.

Eventually, the sheriff does figure things out, but this is an odd little backwoods Virginia town in that the sheriff and others have weird views of justice and salvation based on 19th century romanticism. Danny doesn't really have bad blood, you see, since the killing Dad committed was understandable: a doctor's malpractice led to the death of Danny's mom, and Dad killed the doctor in a revenge killing, and turned himself in. If only Danny can turn himself in in the same way, and not all handcuffed and everything, perhaps the jury will have mercy on him. (We don't actually get to the trial and justice portion of the story, since that would have required the movie to adhere to the Production Code.)

Moonrise is an odd little movie, in that it seems more about the visuals, and in some ways a psychological look at the main character, than it does about the actual story, which is fairly pedestrian. Physically it's a nice movie to look at, if you can overlook that story. Dane Clark isn't the world's best actor by any stretch of the imagination, and while he doesn't do badly, many of the supporting actors are just as much worth watching. I haven't mentioned Rex Ingram, as one of those solitary wise black men, along the lines of Juano Hernandez in Stars in My Crown. Ethel Barrymore has one scene as Danny's grandmother and unsurprisingly nails it.

If you're in the mood for something slightly off Hollywood normal, but not too far off, then Moonrise is definitely worth a watch.

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