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Rancho Notorious (1952)

Rancho Notorious-poster.jpg

From a story (‘Gunsight Whitman’) by Silvia Richards, Daniel Taradash’s screenplay exposes the themes of hatred, murder and revenge, as the title song tells us. Actually, the title song is The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck but then studio head Howard Hughes wasn’t having it and insisted it be renamed. (The lyric also includes the phrase ‘man of steel,’ of trivia significance because of the presence of future TV Superman George Reeves a little down the cast list…) The fiancee of cowboy Vern (Arthur Kennedy) is raped and murdered in a raid on the general store and he swears to catch her killer. Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) gets the big buildup here – everyone has a story about her before we meet her properly and the first anecdote gives director Fritz Lang the opportunity to introduce her in a surreal saloon scene, piggybacking as ‘jockey’ to her ‘horse’ – a must-see if you’re a Dietrich aficionado. But that was years ago, it seems. And now? Kennedy contrives to get introduced to her associate, Frenchy (Mel Ferrer) as a means of getting to her and to the man who inflicted such hardship on him. Forced to take part in her gang’s bank robbery, he brings Altar her share of the proceeds and she admits where she got the brooch he recognises … Dietrich’s role as a woman in the western genre reaches a kind of apotheosis here and Lang is of course one of the essential directors. Taut, with Lang’s typical flourishes and a robust song track. Another piece of trivia:  it’s mentioned by Michel Piccoli in Le Mepris/Contempt in which Lang plays ‘Fritz Lang,’ the director of The Odyssey.


About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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