I followed up Fritz Lang’s early sound stinker Liliom with this real good western. More of a musical than Liliom, every few scenes we get a troubadour singing the Chuck-a-luck song.
This came after Secret Beyond The Door and House By The River, and right before The Big Heat and The Blue Gardenia, square in the middle of that great ten-year period for Lang. Just like in Big Heat, our hero’s wife gets killed at the beginning, but this time it’s not part of any conspiracy, just mean ol’ thievery and rapery and murderry. Our hero is Vern (Arthur Kennedy from Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Sam Fuller’s Shark, Bright Victory and Lawrence of Arabia) and when the townsfolk and lawmen won’t help him hunt the baddies past the county line, he goes undercover-vigilante and dedicates his life to revenge.
He follows clues across the country to Chuck a Luck, Marlene Dietrich’s secret baddie hideaway ranch, and fakes being bad long enough to figure out who’s the sumbitch what killed his wife. He thinks it’s this slick-shooting shifty guy for the longest time, but in the end it turns out to have been some cowardly sideman, who gets what for. But Marlene dies trying to save our guy. So heroic and good natured is our guy that even selfish Marlene would die for him!
Cool as hell movie, with Marlene in her early 50’s still looking good and a buncha actors I don’t recognize doing a fine job too. Somehow I missed both Jack Elam and George Reeves (who was already Superman when this came out). Best part is the first few scenes of Vern seeking out the ranch, hearing legends about Marlene via not-necessarily-true flashbacks. That Herr Lang could make a tight little revenge thriller when he wanted to.
TRIVIA: Lang wanted to call this movie “Chuck a Luck” but the studio forced the title “Rancho Notorious”. Both titles, of course, are stinky.