Rancho Notorious ★★★½

Lang on auto-pilot? Or devious anti-western?

Not sure what to make of this sweeping tale of "hate, murder, and revenge" starring Arthur Kennedy as The Righteous Searcher and Marlene Dietrich as the Outlaw Matriarch (preceding both JOHNNY GUITAR and FORTY GUNS). For a film that features multiple flashbacks, a bank robbery, a jailbreak, and a shootout, there is a remarkable amount of inaction (heavy on interiors and static compositions while outlaws sit around making eyes at each other, where traveling is only alluded to and the real west is a forgotten memory, but Kennedy does ride a buckin' bronco at some point...prepping for THE LUSTY MEN?). This inaction is coupled with an intense artificiality (painted backdrops, studio sets, lurid technicolor) that creates a sort of emotional vacuum, shunning the mythic western landscapes of Mann, Ford, et al, in favor of faces and the intense inner turmoil of the central characters (Mel Ferrer included, as the just-over-the-hill gunfighter).

Like Kennedy's would-be avenger, the film's dominant form is poised, but ready to strike - lingering, observational wide shots and Hawksian mediums are occasionally undercut with a quick dolly or flourish of light, but mostly it just seems like Howard Hughes made some poor editor cut remove most of the interesting images (if, of course, they were there to begin with). Still. Not sure about that theme song, either, but it's noteworthy that the film's first, and false, climax, involves a particularly intense showdown in which no gun is fired- framed in a lengthy, slightly roving wide two-shot, Lang lets Kennedy's (and theoretically, the audiences) disgust and anger boil over in sudden real-time. It's dope.

But as Fritz Lang said in CONTEMPT, I prefer M.

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