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  Stalking Moon, The The HuntedBuy this film here.
Year: 1968
Director: Robert Mulligan
Stars: Gregory Peck, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Forster, Noland Clay, Russell Thorson, Frank Silvera, Lonny Chapman, Lou Frizzell, Henry Beckman, Charles Tyner, Richard Bull, Sandy Wyeth, Joaquín Martínez, Boyd 'Red' Morgan, Nathaniel Narcisco
Genre: Western
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sam Varner (Gregory Peck) is an ageing U.S. Cavalry scout currently on patrol with a platoon who are hunting down the Apaches who have been picking off small parties of white folks travelling through this territory. They find a group of them and their families out in the rocky hills, but they have a surprise coming to them when as they round up the Indians, a voice speaking in English calls out. It belongs to Sarah Carver (Eva Marie Saint), a woman who had been captured by the tribe some years ago and has even had a child with one of the men. She wants to return to civilisation: can Sam help?

This low key western, for the most part at any rate, reunited star Gregory Peck with his To Kill a Mockingbird director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan J. Pakula, and while it didn't exactly have anything like the success of their previous production together, it has built up a fairly strong following over the years from those who might have caught it on television. Taking the liberal credentials of Mockingbird to apply them to the western sounds an interesting notion, and it's true that the script, from Alvin Sargent and Wendell Mayes, weighs up both sides of the racial divide, but it's not a smooth ride.

Of course, with the suspense Mulligan hoped to bring out it wasn't going to be anyway, but there are a few pointers to this being the era of Hollywood looking back to all those cowboys and Indians shoot 'em ups of the past and thinking, hey, maybe the whites weren't on the right side after all. The Stalking Moon doesn't quite go that far, ensuring we are well aware these Apaches are unremittingly fierce when it comes to forcing the intruders from their land, but we do get to understand them even if the plotline has us intended to fear them.

And one Apache in particular, he being the man who had the child with Sarah and just as in a messy divorce, a tug of love erupts between them when she opts to take the boy with her when she goes with the soldiers. She implores Sam that she needs to leave for the city as quickly as possible, and he is pretty much strongarmed by her into taking her with him to escape. What she doesn't tell him is that there's a raging mad Indian on their trail, and when the boy runs away, necessitating Sam to chase after him, by the time they get back to their way station and find the occupants dead Sarah has to admit what is really going on.

Funnily enough, this may alarm Sam but he is nevertheless compelled to help her out, and after deciding the city is not for them he takes them to his cabin in the middle of a tree-filled nowhere to settle down with his new charges. Not that this will put off the avenging father, and interestingly the little boy is no less keen to be reunited with his dad, giving rise to a moral question that sadly the film is reluctant to tackle. Another problem is that no matter what the intimate scale this is being played out on doesn't make it any less of one of those cowboys vs Indians movies of yesteryear, and having Robert Forster as a friendly native doesn't help as much as you might think as he's plainly a white actor in brownface. But put aside the uncertainties this brings up and you have a tense showdown to reward you; not a riproaring thriller then, but an effective life or death struggle amid some striking scenery. Music by Fred Karlin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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