Rancho Notorious (1952)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Hybrid Western, Crime Thriller  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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The third Western directed by Fritz Lang (whose personal papers were found after his death to contain dozens of paperback Western novels), Rancho Notorious was made under trying circumstances. Not only was Lang fearful that producer Howard Welsch and the studio might not let him complete the film, but star Marlene Dietrich proved a worthy adversary for the autocratic director. Working from a story idea he had developed with former collaborator Sylvia Richards, Lang and screenwriter Daniel Taradash fashioned a Langian tale of revenge featuring a male character on a quest that takes him from Wyoming to the Southwest. Another Lang signature touch was the love triangle involving Altar Keane (Dietrich), the vengeful Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy), and gunslinger Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer). That Dietrich was 13 years the senior of Kennedy and 16 years older than Ferrer doesn't seem to matter; at age 50 she projected believable sexual allure. Lang and Taradash skillfully take their time in getting Vern to Chuck-a-Luck, the outlaw hideout Altar maintains, weaving in flashbacks of Altar's past that establish her as a resourceful woman who is also beholden to Frenchy. Kennedy is well cast as the cowboy tortured by his thirst for revenge, and Dietrich is more iconic than natural, which suits the role just fine. One of the film's best scenes has the two of them riding away from the other outlaws for a private chat, and when it dawns on Altar that she's falling for this cowboy, she tells him to leave the ranch "and come back ten years ago." Less successful is the use of ballads written by Ken Darby to move the story along. The device seems to work only rarely in this genre, though directors never tire of it. Two films which did it successfully are Tony Richardson's Ned Kelly, with songs by Shel Silverstein, and Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, using previously composed works by Leonard Cohen.