Genre Pictures II

film 3 of 4

Rancho Notorious

Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jun 2, 2015

Colour! If this is 1950 then the song that helps structure the narrative pre-dates the more famous High Noon (A Walk in the Sun pre-dates them both);

Dramatically shot, tightly cut, & quite savage, such that it really anticipates Lang’s upcoming The Big Heat: there it was boiling coffee in the face, while this one starts w’ the vengeance-obsessed protagonist/Arthur Kennedy’s fiancée being raped—I presume—& murdered, & w’ blood in her fingernails (!), not to mention a fight that results in a “jugular severed in three places,” & all being punctuated by a laugh!

A roundabout, picaresque narrative structure finds our protagonist, following a cold trail, getting a series of detail-filling stories, all played out on screen, that gradually erode the central mystery; very involving, & very nicely essayed; the stories all lead us to the implacable Miss Dietrich, & the vivid band of scamps that surround her, Kennedy’s undercover work there gives sympathetic shivers similar to those aroused by the Edmond O’Brien character in White Heat, with the added pleasure here that Kennedy’s drive & fury have made him more psychotic than the crooks he’s infiltrated;

The conclusion suggests two things, maybe: Dietrich’s character dies for a (slightly) more virtuous female character, or in other words pays the price for pursuing her own interests instead of what’s society expects of her; or, this is pure aggression, Langian fatefulness, no quarter stuff, what w’ the song suggesting that the two men who have been & ought to continue to be friends end up killing each other, bringing to a close the tale of “hate, murder and revenge;” it’s irrational, it’s malicious, it’s really contrived, & while I’m under its spell, it’s wonderful arresting …