Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Stalking Moon

A cross between Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians and a modern slasher movie, The Stalking Moon is the first horror Western I have ever seen.  Beautiful cinematography in vibrant colors and the sometimes haunting music, used judiciously, really complement the plot of this 1968 film that was partially shot on location in Nevada.

The Stalking Moon opens with a long shot of a man clambering over Vazquez Park-like rocks as he then helps the U.S. Army capture a band of Apaches in Arizona.  Gregory Peck stars as Sam Varner, an Army scout whom the audience soon finds out has decided to retire and return to his ranch in New Mexico. 

One of the Indians turns out to be a captive white woman, played by Eva Marie Saint, with a young half-Indian son.  She has evidently been with the Apaches for a long time because she has a hard time remembering how to speak English.

The soldiers herd the Indians to the Army camp, prior to sending them to the reservation at San Carlos.  On their way to the makeshift Army post, they come across a burned-out homestead and someone mutters the name Salvaje.

Not much is made of the plight of the Indians, however.  Instead, the plot of The Stalking Moon soon revolves around the white woman, whose name is Sarah Carver, and her attempts to accompany Varner to his ranch with her son.  There is a bit of a mystery as to why she wants to leave the Army encampment so quickly but, ultimately, she does and the journey to New Mexico reveals the openness and loneliness of the Old West. 

Red “Boyd” Morgan (Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim) has a small role as a stagecoach driver the travellers meet on their way to Varner's ranch.  Varner, Carver and her son survive a sandstorm in the desert that was just as bad, if not worse, than the one in Smiler with a Gun.  Eventually, they arrive at the ranch, situated in a forest near a river, and the old man who was taking care of the place and buying up cattle for Varner, greets them.

All seems idyllic—Sam is getting used to having a woman around and Sarah is regaining her voice and strength.  But soon mysterious, violent incidents occur and the name Salvaje is uttered again.  An Indian scout (played by Robert Forster), a friend of Sam’s, shows up, and after that, the suspense dramatically increases. 

There is a lot of scrambling through the forest and over rocks and in the river, as in High Lonesome Country, and it slowly becomes clear who Salvaje is and why he is there.  The Stalking Moon handles all of this very effectively in its 109 minutes.