March 17, 2020

THE STALKING MOON and the Phantom Menace
Starring Gregory Peck, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Forster, Noland Clay, Russell Thorson, Nathaniel Narcisco. Directed by Robert Mulligan. (109 min)

Review by Mr. Paws😾

High Noon notwithstanding, there’s something wrong with a western when your bad guy doesn’t show up until the final act.

We hear about him plenty and even see the aftermath of his handiwork. But not only is he off-screen for the first two-thirds of The Stalking Moon, when he finally does arrive, we hardly see his face and he says almost nothing. The unseen menace might work in some genres – such as horror – but not westerns, which generally rely on a villain who’s just as dynamic as the hero.

Speaking of heroes, this one has Gregory Peck as Sam Varner, a retiring Army scout who reluctantly agrees to escort Sarah Carver (Eva Marie Saint) and her Native-American son to catch a stagecoach to...well, wherever. Sarah has been held captive for years by a tribe led by Salvaje (Nathaniel Narcisco), a vicious chief with impeccable tracking skills and no qualms about slaughtering anyone who gets in his way. It turns out Salvaje is the boy’s father and wants him back. Sam eventually brings Sarah and the boy to his own ranch to start a new life, but unfortunately for them, Salvaje’s a dangerously dedicated dad.

When Jehovah Witnesses show up at the door.
Unfortunately, the film isn’t as nearly exciting as it sounds. Peck is always enjoyable, but despite reteaming with To Kill a Mockingbird director Robert Mulligan, Sam Varner is no Atticus Finch and there’s absolutely nothing Saint can do to make Sarah someone we care about. However, a very young Robert Forster does have a few good moments as Sam’s poker-loving protegee. That leaves the story, which plods along with little or no action until the climactic showdown, when Salvaje (finally!) arrives to wreak some havoc.

Though The Stalking Moon is well directed and Peck is solid as usual, everyone on both sides of the camera have done much better work before and since (except Narcisco, who never went on to do anything else). With a faceless villain who’s MIA for most of the running time, this is a dull, forgettable western. 


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