Rancho Notorious (1952)

Rancho Notorious (1952)

Run time: 89 min
Rating: 7.0
Genres: Drama | Western
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Daniel Taradash, Silvia Richards
Stars: Marlene Dietrich, Arthur Kennedy, Mel Ferrer
Storyline
A cowboy (Kennedy) seeking the killer of his fiancée runs across a gambler and a dance hall queen who may hold the key.  A western with a punch!  Fine acting and direction keep the interest on High throughout.
Details:
Release Date: 1 March 1952 (USA)

4 responses to “Rancho Notorious (1952)”

  1. tfsadmin says:

    "Rancho Notorious" is a beautifully atmospheric and suspenseful film. Best known for his expressionist black & white suspense thrillers, director Fritz Lang brings the same qualities to this Technicolor western.

    Although she must have been in her fifties when the film was made, Dietrich looks absolutely gorgeous. She also seems to be having lots of fun with the part, in a sense reprising her character from "Destry Rides Again." It’s never explained how this woman with the strange German accent ended up in the Wild West, and we don’t really care. By the way, Dietrich’s performance in these two films was the basis for Madeline Kahn’s great parody in "Blazing Saddles."

    The one thing that really stands out in my mind about this film is how effectively the suspense builds. The tension leading up to Vern’s discovery of the killer’s identity is almost unbearable, and Lang makes us wait until the film’s last five minutes for the inevitable score-settling gunfight.

    In a period of film history when westerns were a dime a dozen, this one really stands out as a true classic.

  2. IMDBReviewer says:

    Chuck-a-Luck is a hole in the wall type ranch where men with prices on their heads hide out and are given protection by Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) and her lover Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer) for ten percent of the loot brought in my the outlaws. Chuck-a-Luck is called Rancho Notorious in the film’s title, which does sound somewhat better. Unfortunately a terrible narrative theme, "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck" used throughout the movie becomes very grating to the ears. The ballad singer William Lee (who is he anyway?) doesn’t help the situation. Fortunately the songs chosen for the talented Marlene Dietrich to perform are much better (actually one "Gypsy Davey" is an old British ballad that Woody Guthrie turned into a cowboy song). Her renditions are not quite on the level of her "See What The Boys In The Backroom Will Have" from the western classic "Destry Rides Again" but are still captivating. (Interesting that she played a saloon girl named Frenchy in "Destry" whereas this time her lover is named Frenchy.)

    This is one of few so-called adult westerns from the 1950’s that actually lives up to that label. The flashback barroom scene where the soiled angels are riding their customers in a drunken mock horse race as jockeys would ride horses shows how fun and games in Old West saloons really took place. The whores are not prima donnas as oft times shown in Hollywood films. Pay particular attention to the gross fat showgirl trying to ride a much smaller client. It is funny and repulsive at the same time. Fritz Lang takes away all window dressing. Even Marlene Dietrich looks much more slutty and rough around the edges than she did in "Destry." Being over a decade older gives even more authenticity to Dietrich’s character. She looks like a much older Lola Lola from "Blue Angel."

    Mel Ferrer is an actor with a somewhat limited range. In the right role he could shine. His best acting was done in a movie that came out just before this one, "The Brave Bulls." But his second best role is as Frenchy in "Rancho Notorious." He fits his part much better than Arthur Kennedy fits his. Kennedy as a gunslinging rancher is fine but Kennedy the lover takes a suspension of belief, especially as Marlene Dietrich’s lover. One can just imagine how he would look in the morning after one night with Altar Keane.

    Fritz Lang’s direction is spectacular. He captures all the nuances of the characters. His flashback technique at the first of the movie to define Altar Keane’s persona is reminiscent of Orson Welles’ milestone direction of "Citizen Kane." Then he progresses to an almost film noir western in color. The cinematography is much better in some parts of the film. It is not as effective when Frenchy and Vern (Arthur Kennedy) are together in the hills (the background sometimes looks phony) than when interior sets are used. Perhaps this relates to a money problem producing the show.

    Another enjoyable facet of the feature is the gallery of colorful character actors who all do superlative jobs. George Reeves (tv’s Superman) is lovingly menacing as a womanizing gun toting ambusher. Jack Elam is fine as a distrustful negative thinking thief. Frank Ferguson plays the outlaw called Preacher who prays and reads from the Bible for special guidance in robbing and killing. William Frawley (better known as Fred Mertz) shows a mean side playing a double dealing saloon gambler who fires Altar. Fuzzy Knight is an honest barber who tries to help Vern out of a mess. This time he doesn’t stutter. Several other notables such as Tom London, Kermit Maynard, and Harry Woods have interesting bit parts.

    If Lang could have borrowed Tex Ritter from High Noon to do an appropriate theme, "Rancho Notorious" would have been a winner all the way.

  3. tfsadmin says:

    Rancho Notorious is a gorgeous film, with beautiful Technicolor cinematography. It almost reaches the poetry of a John Ford film, or a great film noir, but falls just a little short. Arthur Kennedy plays Vern, a rancher whose fiancee is brutally raped and murdered. He goes out for revenge, following the clues. He ends up at Rancho Notorious, a hideout for outlaws run by Alder Keane, played wonderfully by Marlene Dietrich in one of her most memorable roles. She’s fully in her philosophical mode here, like she was in Touch of Evil a few years later. She’s so sad, so beautiful. She also has a great musical number. Mel Ferrer is also quite good as Frenchie Fairmont, a lethal cowboy who loves Alder. There are also a lot of great supporting actors playing colorful villains, especially George Reeves (T.V.’s Superman).

    The story is quite great. There are a couple of problems with characterizations, especially Vern. He’s mostly great. He’s mostly a noir hero, flawed in his own right but always believing that he’s on an entirely moral quest. The film goes wrong when he becomes the romantic hero. He’s too creepy. Dietrich simply dominates him. Mel Ferrer fairs much better in that way. The climactic sequence also disappoints. The other major flaw is that damn theme song. Rancho Notorious is pulp, it’s very over-the-top, but that goofy song would make anybody laugh. Also, the name Chuck-a-Luck inspired a lot of laughs in the audience (I was lucky enough to see it at a theater).

    Overall, though, Rancho Notorious is a great film, quite haunting in its own right. It’s one of Lang’s best, by my reckoning, up there with Fury and M. 9/10.

  4. tfsadmin says:

    Fritz Lang’s superlative western teeters dangerously on the edge of campness, (it’s that infernal ‘Legend of Chuck-a-Luck’ ballad pounding away on the soundtrack, continually reminding us that this is a tale of ‘hate … murder and revenge’). Then, of course, there is that great gay icon Marlene Dietrich, looking extraordinary at fifty one as Altar Keane, boss of the outlaw hideout Chuck-a-Luck where Arthur Kennedy comes seeking the man who killed his girl in a robbery. In many respects the film is a perfect companion to Nicholas Ray’s not dissimilar "Johnny Guitar", made around the same time and both featuring dominant women and weaker men and both dealing explicitly with ‘hate, murder and revenge’.

    This is a very tight piece of work, thematically dense and psychologically astute and directed by Lang in a truly classical style. It affords all the pleasures that a really good western should while still falling perfectly within a milieu recognizable from many of Lang’s American works. "Johnny Guitar’s" veiled lesbianism together with Nicholas Ray’s growing reputation may have given it the edge but this, too, is a remarkable film, an essential work by one of the cinema’s greatest directors.

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