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USA 1952
Directed by
Fritz Lang
89 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Rancho Notorious

A 51 year old Marlene Dietrich returns to one of her staple roles, the Wild West bar girl, in this stylistically dated but nevertheless still engaging Western that benefits from a solid script and Lang’s intelligent direction.

Arthur Kennedy plays Wyoming cow-poke Vern Haskell who is about to marry peaches-and-cream Gloria (Beth Forbes). However when she is raped and murdered in a random robbery, Vern is determined to avenge her. The story revolves around Vern’s search for the killer and this eventually leads him to Dietrich’s Altar Keane and her man, Frenchy (Mel Ferrer).

Although made on the cheap by RKO and looking it, Rancho Notorious benefits from the quality of its revenge story, which to some extent makes the Western trappings irrelevant. Very much in the noir manner with which he is most associated Lang contrasts the various moral codes (or lack of them) of the characters although there is arguably some soft pedaling at the film’s end which robs it of a fully cathartic pay-off, instead settling for a self-immolating resolution that sidesteps the oft referred-to issues of hate and revenge.

The film apparently pioneered the use of a thematic ballad in the Western, in this case  'The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck', a device which became very popular in subsequent Westerns, although ironically the film’s title has no connection with the story whatsoever (Keane's ranch is called  Chuck-a-Luck).

FYI: Lloyd Gough who plays Kinch had his name omitted from the credits by RKO boss Howard Hughes because he failed to testify to the HUAC.




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