This newest batch offers four solid post-1950s Westerns: two of Sam Peckinpah’s best pictures, Ride the High Country (1962) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Chisum (1970), starring John Wayne, and an underrated Gregory Peck film, The Stalking Moon (1968).
The Peckinpah films need little introduction. While not everybody ranks Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in the same class as 1969’s The Wild Bunch, many agree that Ride the High Country, which starred Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, is as good or better than anything Peckinpah ever made. It consistently lands near the top of every greatest Westerns list.
The John Wayne film, which, like Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, is about the Lincoln County War, is late-era Duke. It’s loaded with Wayne/John Ford regulars, such as Ben Johnson, Hank Worden and Bruce Cabot. It’s also one of only a handful of Wayne pictures that isn’t part of any other collection.
The fourth movie in the bunch sits a little outside what is usually thought of as routine Westerns material. The Stalking Moon was directed by Robert Mulligan, who had directed Peck in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The script was written by Alvin Sargent, who started writing for TV in the mid-1950s. Most recently, Sargent has been at work on the forthcoming Spider-Man movie, his second contribution to the series.
What makes The Stalking Moon unique is that it’s structured as a Suspense picture, as much as a Western. In the film, Peck is a scout who has taken in tow a former Apache captive, played by Eva Marie Saint, and her young son, who it turns out is the son of an Apache chief. We are told that the Apache is determined to get his son back, and he is one of the deadliest warriors in his tribe. Peck is retiring to his modest ranch in New Mexico and reluctantly offers the woman a place to live if she’s willing to help with the work, but he’s not entirely clued in on the danger he’s put himself and his fellow ranch hand in. The movie makes good use of space and time, as it moves quietly toward a violent conclusion.
The Stalking Moon is not up there with other time-tense Westerns, such as 1952’s High Noon and 1957/2007’s 3:10 to Yuma, but it’s a movie that works well and doesn’t ever sell its characters short. It makes a nice addition to the collection.