7/13/2016

Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Ride the Pink Horse (1947)


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Talk about tempting fate. Only in Film Noir would a man named Lucky travel to a New Mexico town that's so well-known for its bad luck that each year, the locals host a festival to shed the curse through the ritual of fire.

As a popular tourist destination, the event makes a terrific diversion in theory. But once you burn something, the scent lingers in the air, attaching itself from one person to another like the carousel at the center of town, which – despite the colorful distraction of a pink horse – can't hide the fact that it leads you nowhere.

Hauntingly captured by cinematographer Russell Metty eleven years before he lensed another southwestern Noir soaked stunner via Touch of Evil, this flawed yet mildly effective black-and-white B-movie is filled with shady symbolism.


Based on the Dorothy B. Hughes novel and produced by five time Alfred Hitchcock co-writer Joan Harrison (who's rumored to have also taken a pass at the screenplay), Ride the Pink Horse reflects the ideas of far too many off-screen storytellers.

A long forgotten postwar crime picture that’s been resuscitated by The Criterion Collection, although Ride’s meandering plotline often stops and starts just like a carousel, the sharp one-liners served up by Ben Hecht (Notorious) and Charles Lederer (His Girl Friday) give the film a badly needed illusion of speed. Sadly, the feeling is short lived.


Taking what should’ve been a naturally thrilling confrontation between hero and villain in the form of a foot chase and dragging it out to a near crawl, Horse is strained even more by its characters' wildly inconsistent personalities that seem to change at – if not the drop of a hat – than with a sudden shift of that unlucky wind.

Still less daring yet more palatable than actor turned director Robert Montgomery’s first film that was released earlier that same year, Ride the Pink Horse’s emphasis on ensemble, ambience, and mood illustrates the filmmaker's love for the medium and its ability to introduce us to people whom we wouldn't normally encounter in our day-to-day life.


And unlike the objective point-of-view approach he employed throughout his boldly experimental adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Lady in the Lake that forced us to look at the world through the eyes of Phillip Marlowe, Montgomery favors a more straightforward style for his follow-up Noir which better serves the material.

As a man fascinated by character driven conflict, it's no wonder that Robert Montgomery gravitated to Noir early on in his filmmaking career since the genre frequently asks us to take a closer look at someone we might have misjudged earlier.

Unfortunately, this film takes it a bit too far as most of the people who fill the screen (including Montgomery's ironically named unlucky WWII vet) seldom reveal the same side of their personality twice.


Offering viewers the opportunity to play Marlowe to greater effect in this film than in the gimmicky Lake, one way Criterion could've bolstered the lukewarm title is by including the much maligned Lady in the Lake on a bonus disc in order to better appreciate Montgomery's genre transition and enjoy the Ride.

Nonetheless although it’s sure to be of interest from a historical and cultural perspective as the first film to result in an Academy Award nomination for a Latino actor (via scene stealer Thomas Gomez), in the end and in spite of Criterion’s technically stellar Blu-ray high definition transfer, the oft-forgotten film remains just as forgettable today.   

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