Blood on the Moon (1948): Robert Wise’s Noir Western, Starring Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Preston

In 1948, Robert Wise directed Blood on the Moon, a terse psychological western, largely shot in California and Sedona Arizona.

The interiors, using the vocabulary of film noir, were courtesy of master cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca.

Blood on the Moon
Blood on the Moon poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Based on Luke Short’s 1941 novel, Gunman’s Chance by, adapted to the screen by Lillie Hayward and Harold Shumate, the movie stars Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Preston, all in top form.

Robert Mitchum is well cast as cowboy-drifter Jim Garry, who’s summoned by his friend, the smooth-talking Tate Riling (Robert Preston) into an Indian reservation, finding himself embroiled in a conflict between cattle owners and homesteaders.

Cattle owner John Lufton, and his daughters Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes) and Carol (Phyllis Thaxter), are initially hostile to Garry, suspecting that he is on Riling’s side.

Garry and Indian agent Jake Pindalest have devised a scheme to force Lufton into selling cheaply his herd to meet the deadline of the government order to remove his cattle.

Conning the homesteaders into believing he is representing their best interests, Riling organizes them into blocking the move. The plan is for the government to buy the herd at inflated prices, and for Garry to get $10,000 bonus for the swindle.

Lufton outsmarts Riling and moves his herd unimpeded, but Riling and his men bring the cattle back onto the reservation.  Turning point occurs, when Garry switches sides, after an innocent man is killed in the stampede.

Initially, Amy suspects Garry of betraying a letter to Riling, unaware that it’s her sister Carol, enamored with Riling, who is the traitor.  She begins to trust Garry, only after he defends her father from Riling’s men, and in due time, falls for him.

Garry persuades Pindalest, who is unaware of his break with Riling, to ask the government to extend the deadline. Garry then takes Pindalest prisoner, but Riling and his gang track them down. Garry flees to Kris Barden, the father of a killed man.  A gunfight erupts, and after Pindalest is knocked out, Gary is forced to face his friend directly.

In the end, Riling is fatally wounded, Pindalest is taken into custody, and Garry decides to settle down with Amy.

Maintaining a nice balance in rhythm and mood, Wise’s direction is leisurely-paced in the dialogue scenes, and taut in the action sequences, building nicely toward the mano-a-mano fight between Mitchum and Preston.

Released on November 9, 1948, Blood on the Moon was profitable at the box-office, earning grosses that more than doubled the $1.5 million producing budget.


Directed by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Lillie Hayward, Harold Shumate, based on The novel Gunman’s Chance, 1941 by Luke Short
Produced by Theron Warth
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by Samuel E. Beetley
Music by Roy Webb
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures

Release date: Nov 9, 1948 (US)

Running time: 88 minutes
Budget $1.5 million
Box office $2.4 million (US rentals