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Rancho Notorious !


misswonderly3
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This was aired last week, and although I'd planned to watch it at that time, I had to miss it. I was very disappointed, not realizing that it was to be aired again today!
So this time I caught it.
I'd only seen this Fritz Lang Western ( !) once before, years ago in a film class. Don't remember much about it, except that my classmates and I laughed at the cheesy song.
Well, the song's still cheesy, but nothing else about this 1952 Western/semi-Noir is. With a cast that includes the one and only Marlene Dietrich, Mel Ferrer, and Arthur Kennedy, it would have had to be utterly wretched for me to not like it. And it was far from wretched, it was a lot of fun!

Marlene plays a world-weary ex-floozie who runs a hideaway for outlaws. The outlaws kind of freelance, it's not a cohesive gang. This in itself makes it quite different from most other Westerns featuring robber cowboys who hole up somewhere to evade the law and plan their next job.
Dietrich is at her most Dietrichish here, flashing her eyes, vamping around in fancy 1870s dresses or form-fitting jeans and a check shirt, an outfit she somehow manages to render sexy, and making every red-blooded man in sight wish he were her lover.
But that role is reserved for Frenchie, an amiable gun-slinger who falls for Marlene (known here as Altar Keane) and helps her set up her hide-out (which also poses as a horse ranch, and actually seems to make money at it.)
Frenchie as played by the charming and always vaguely sad-looking Mel Ferrer is the kind of outlaw you root for, especially when he befriends the hero of the story, Arthur Kennedy.

Art ("Vern Haskell") is on a quest to find his fiancee's killer and avenge her death.
But I didn't really mean to got so explicatory about *Rancho Notorious* ' plot. What really matters here is style and character, and this film has it in more spades than a cowboys' poker game.

I always like movies that get you to sympathize with the supposedly "bad" characters. Unless they're really bad characters, and there is one or two in *RN* .
I also love Altar's set-up. She is the boss, and it's always entertaining and a little gratifying to see a woman wearing the pants (literally) and issuing orders to all the men around her.

Some might see *Rancho Notorious* as fraught with cliches, but I think it was just the opposite. Everything in it was just a little different, a little odder than your usual Western.
I understand now why it was shown in my film class, all those years ago.

ps: *Rancho Notorious* would make a good double bill with *Johnny Guitar*.

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I'm a little surprised at you, MissW. You don't like the cheesy song of Rancho Notorious?

 

When ya loves a film, ya love it all the way, the good, the bad and all the stuff in between.

 

So here is it, from that film you love, with that song you know you really do love, the Legend of Chuck-a-Luck. (And remember, it's a tale of haaate, murder, and revenge!).

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YXnMX5ADjs&list=RD9YXnMX5ADjs

 

P.S.: Okaaay, having just listened myself to the Legend of Chuck-a-Luck, I'd like to say that it is possible to not like a song in a film that you otherwise love. (Even though it is a legendary collection of HAAAATE! MURDER! and REVENGE!).

 

Dietrich's role as Altar Keane has obvious flashbacks, certainly in that saloon sequence in which she is riding piggy back, to her legendary perfromance as Frenchy in Destry Rides Again, made 13 years earlier. For some reason, just to complete the connection, they gave Mel Ferrer the same name in Rancho Notorious.

 

It is a fun quirky odd ball western, as you said, memorable for those qualities, plus Dietrich's remarkable appearance for a woman defying her age. There weren't many actresses then in their early '50s, such as Marlene was, that had leading men vying for her attention like they do in this film.

 

Come to think of it, what other actress of the studio days was playing it sexy on screen like Dietrich was at age 51? It was around this time that I believe the press was dubbing her the world's sexiest grandmother.

 

film3712.jpg

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Tom, you're right about the name "Frenchy". Doubtless, in a film featuring Marlene Dietrich, the choice to give that name to Mel Ferrer's character is a direct reference to Dietrich's "Frenchy" in *Destry Rides Again*, made thirteen years before *Rancho Notorious*.

 

A few more thoughts about *Rancho Notorious*:

Altar and Frenchy's hide-out is never referred to by the film's title. No, their secret haven is actually called "Chuck-a-Luck". Guess Fritz Lang decided that the title he ended up with sounds better, more intriguing, more noir-ish, than the more mundane "Chuck-a-Luck".

 

Noir? Did I say "noir"? Why yes. There are quite a few quasi-noir Westerns. Just to name a few: *Johnny Guitar* (mentioned on my original post), *Pursued*, *Blood on the Moon*, and any number of Anthony Mann Westerns.

Add to that list *Rancho Notorious*.

Why? Well for one thing, it's directed by Fritz Lang, one of noir's big gun directors. For another, like the other titles listed above, just change the setting and time period of *Rancho Notorious*, a few details, and you've got a classic noir scenario - a previously happy and innocent man who becomes obsessed with revenge and gets pulled into a dark world.

 

Of course, *Rancho Notorious* is in colour, but there are lots of colour noirs. And I think Lang is deliberately messing with us in his sets...there are one or two brief location shots, but mostly Altar's ranch seems to exist in a bizarre neverland world of obviously painted sets.

Yes, painted backdrops were used a lot in movies, certainly still in 1952. But look closely and you'll see that these sets don't even attempt to look realistic. It's like Arthur Kennedy, Dietrich and Ferrer are living in a painted set, an alternative world to the real one. Take a look at the cactus plants and sand dunes around them - clearly not real, not even close !

 

So, anyone else (thanks Tom and TB) see *Rancho Notorious* recently, or even not so recently? Like, ever? Any thoughts?

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I've seen it several times, though not recently. I enjoyed it and hope to see it again sometime. Dietrich didnt like it (didnt get along with Lang), but its a fun movie. I agree it would make a GREAT double bill with Johny Guitar (how I miss him, the poster anyway! :( ) HINT. HINT......

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>Guess Fritz Lang decided that the title he ended up with sounds better, more intriguing, more noir-ish, than the more mundane "Chuck-a-Luck".

 

In an interview with Lang in the book "The Celluloid Muse," the director claimed that he wanted "Chuck A Luck" as the title, but he was forced to deal with "Rancho Notorious" which Howard Hughes preferred. The latter thought that nobody would have known what Chuck-A-Luck was referring to, which caused Lang much confusion.

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Rancho Notorious is an interesting movie for many of the reasons you noted. The sets are something and many scenes have a stage play feel to them and I think the backdrops add to this vibe.

 

Like Johnny Guitar there is a camp quality to the picture but that doesn't take away from the entertainment value.

 

Both Kennedy and Ferrer get to stretch some in this film and I really enjoy their performances. Dietrich plays her part with just the right amount of bite.

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I've seen this movie several times so obviously I like it. As for a double feature with *Johnny Guitar,* forget it. This movie and Marlene Dietrich mop the floor with Joan Crawford and company.

 

Marlene is totally believable as the once-famous courtesan whose looks and allure have faded and now holds court in a hole-in-the-wall hideout for outlaws. At first her name, Altar, seems all wrong as it's a place where religious sacrifices are offered but then you realize she sacrificed her youth and beauty for material goods and notoriety. I think Altar's holding on to the illusion that days gone by haven't really gone, the men are there for her as much as safety and would let her makes horses of them again. She has Frenchie as a loyal consort and the others for gifts. They're not the fancy carriage and purple gowns but they'll do.

 

Verne makes Altar see herself as she now is. She's too old and world weary for his youth and basic decency, can't take it, wants him gone one minute then wants him there. It's a sad moment when she learns why he's really there and the truth about her life.

 

Frenchie really loves Altar and is jealous of Verne and not without reason. When the other outlaws turn on her he backs her up despite the odds. The end is perhaps how it should be-or the production code demanded it be-but you wish it was different for Frenchie.

 

Many Western movies of that time had such music running through them-I guess *High Noon* started that. At least it fits in with the story. Good movie!

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I love that they bill Marlene as "More tantalizing, tempting and tempestuous than ever!"

Favorite scene: ::kiss:: "That was for trying." ::thwack! thwack!:: "That was for trying too hard!"

 

Original trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OzK3SMsZYc

 

It's not all fun, though. The way they deal with the rape--they take it very seriously. The victim isn't blamed and getting justice for her drives the whole plot.

 

 

I think Dietrich's character's decision to get out of the outlaw business is remorse--the robberies her men commited had never been real to her. The most she ever saw was a pretty trinket or a pile of cash. She never saw the dead or wounded victims--she was too far removed from the actual crime. Having the loved one of a victim tell her about the crime, face-to-face, and seeing the pain and comtempt (for her) on his face made her realize the true cost of what she was doing.

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>It's not all fun, though. The way they deal with the rape--they take it very seriously. The victim isn't blamed and getting justice for her drives the whole plot.

 

You're right, Tracey, both the filmmakers and the characters in the story (well, the "good"ones who know about it) take what happened to Vern's fiance very seriously.

However, it's worth noting that she was raped and killed- presumably killed because she screamed.

Nobody wants to be raped, but I'm guessing that most would rather be just raped than raped and killed.

I do wonder what Vern would have done if his fiance had been left alive - unharmed except for that horrible violation.

Would Vern still have married her? Would he have set out on a quest for vengeance?

But yes, there's no "victim blaming". Would there have been if Beth had lived?

 

As for Altar's decision to get out of the outlaw hide-out racket, I agree, it's mainly remorse she feels after Vern makes her realize all the evil that's being done by those she protects. The way Dietrich plays this scene, she helps to make it clear that her character had never thought of it that way before.

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Mar 20, 2014 12:17 PM

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I know I'm only talking to myself here, but babyIdontcare.

 

wouldbestar wrote:

 

>The end is perhaps how it should be-or the production code demanded it be-but you wish it was different for Frenchie.

 

If indeed, the end of the story is as the song suggests, then you wish it were different for both Frenchy and Vern.

 

The ending of *Rancho Notorious* is in fact ambiguous. If you just go by the action you see in the film, which is simply Vern and Frenchy riding away together, you have no reason to think they come to a quick end. You can imagine them riding off, perhaps to the Mexican border, and maybe starting a ranch of their own, or anything you like. They are certainly alive and well in that last scene.

 

However, if you pay attention to the cheesy song, "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck", then they die soon after that final scene. The last verse goes:

 

Two men rode away from Chuck-A-Luck

And Death rode beside them on the trail

For they died that day, so the legends tell

With empty guns, they fought and fell

And so ends the tale of hate, murder and revenge!

 

So what's up with that? I don't want them to die, and in any case, Vern at least had done nothing to deserve it, even according to the Code.

I think the last shot in the film, Vern and Frenchy riding away into the sunset (so to speak), is Fritz Lang's way of flouting the Code. What you see in the movie is the two heros (I feel Frenchy was as much the hero as Vern ) surviving and starting a new life.

 

However ! The Code (notice I capitalize it, like "God" ) decrees that an outlaw cannot get away with a happy ending, so I think Lang sticks in that song to satisfy the Code meisters. The song says they die - satisfying the Code; but there's nothing in the film itself to suggest that. So, I just ignore the song.

It's a pretty bad song anyway, mediocre lyrics and a strained melody. In fact, it stinks (the song) ( like stinky cheese.)

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misswonderly--I have to admit, I never thought of what Frenchy and Vern do after Altar dies (probably becasue I think of it as a Dietrich picture). But now that you mention it, I can;t remember the ending at all. What did they do with the ranch and horses? DO they continue as outlaws? Im going to have to rewatch it sometime soon.

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>I kind of thought more people would have seen this movie, and have something to say about it.

 

When the film re-airs on TCM, then there may be new posters wanting to discuss it.

 

On April 24, Dietrich appears in THE SPOILERS on TCM. It's part of the John Wayne Star of the Month tribute. In this picture, she plays a role similar to the one in RANCHO NOTORIOUS. It would be interesting to draw comparisons.

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The topic was discussed before when TCM showed the film a few years back. Interesting topic especially misswonderly point about the code.

 

Funny but the only guess as to how the ending was able to get around the code relates to ",,,I think of it as a Dietrich picture"; maybe the producers made some type of deal; ageed to have Dietrich pay for her crimes (die at the end), and you can have the two male stars ride off???. i.e. if you kill off Dietrich in a Dietrich picture, you can have the lesser male stars live!

 

Yea, the above sounds crazy but it is all I could come up with. Of course maybe the people responsible for deciding if the film meet the code stoped watching as soon as Dietrich was killed so they didn't see the guys ride off! (I mean who watches a Dietrich picture when there is no more Dietrich!).

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Well, that's why I came up with the song idea as an explanation for Fritz Lang and the Code censors both having their cake and eating it too.

 

Lang gets to show Vern and Frenchie riding away, apparently very much alive and free.

The Code gets to have them come to a "proper" end, (ie, they don't get away with anything but in fact die) by including that last verse in the song (the words to which I copied here in an earlier post.)

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I was thinking further and I wonder--I had sort of thought of this movie as sort of feminist, given the power of Deitrich's character and the fact that the plot is driven by getting justice for the rape and murder of a young girl, but your comments have made me re-think a bit.

 

Is Vern really looking for justice for the woman, or revenge becasue someone took something he considered "his" away from him? He considers taking Dietrich away from Frenchy, but is that becasue he's truly attracted to her or again, is he searching for revenge? (And as a side topic, what gives him the right to "take" her anyway? Does she have no say in it?)

 

And it says something kind of ugly about the Code and attitudes towards women at the time (and makes this film noirish instead of a true western, which I'd never considered-duh on me, since it IS a Lang movie) that killing the woman would satisfy the rules. All she is really guilty of is recieveing stolen goods and being an accesory. Why should the guys get off scott free?

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  • 1 year later...

I just finished watching this....amazing. I had to refer to my Leonard Maltin Classics guide to check if this was a black comedy or serious-I couldn't tell!

I love Fritz Lang and wanted to see how it compared to his awesome body of work. He is way too talented to think he missed the mark. He must have DELIBERATELY made the choices making this such a dud.

 

Miss Wonderly said: However, if you pay attention to the cheesy song, "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck"

 

Man, you aren't kidding. I loved the opening credits, the lettering, etc. I liked the IDEA of a traditional song, but boy, this one sure was a stinkeroony.

Maybe Lang was making a parody of the western?

 

Miss Wonderly said:also And I think Lang is deliberately messing with us in his sets...there are one or two brief location shots, but mostly Altar's ranch seems to exist in a bizarre neverland world of obviously painted sets.

 

Man, you aren't kidding. I stopped the disk a few times to look at the scenery. In the later getaway scenes, it seemed to be badly done "day for night" shooting, the sky had been hand retouched and some of the foreground brush looked like post production animation. Very unnerving, very cheesy & cheap looking.

I almost thought we were in Brigadoon.

 

But one of the most notable bad choices was the end cuts for key dramatic scenes. They just drop to black instantly and another brighter mood scene starts! There were several of these (bad) fast cuts, what was he thinking?

 

I know Mel Brooks does this for comedic effect, which leads me to believe Lang was trying for comedy effect as well. 

But again, like the "great" John Ford...not all great directors employ the best editors. To be fair, possibly Ford choose the "take" best for the actor, not best for the story flow.

 

RANCHO NOTORIOUS left me with my mouth open. Seemed like Lang was either experimenting or deliberately getting even with someone.

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I just finished watching this....amazing. I had to refer to my Leonard Maltin Classics guide to check if this was a black comedy or serious-I couldn't tell!

I love Fritz Lang and wanted to see how it compared to his awesome body of work. He is way too talented to think he missed the mark. He must have DELIBERATELY made the choices making this such a dud.

 

Miss Wonderly said: However, if you pay attention to the cheesy song, "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck"

 

Man, you aren't kidding. I loved the opening credits, the lettering, etc. I liked the IDEA of a traditional song, but boy, this one sure was a stinkeroony.

Maybe Lang was making a parody of the western?

 

Miss Wonderly said:also And I think Lang is deliberately messing with us in his sets...there are one or two brief location shots, but mostly Altar's ranch seems to exist in a bizarre neverland world of obviously painted sets.

 

Man, you aren't kidding. I stopped the disk a few times to look at the scenery. In the later getaway scenes, it seemed to be badly done "day for night" shooting, the sky had been hand retouched and some of the foreground brush looked like post production animation. Very unnerving, very cheesy & cheap looking.

I almost thought we were in Brigadoon.

 

But one of the most notable bad choices was the end cuts for key dramatic scenes. They just drop to black instantly and another brighter mood scene starts! There were several of these (bad) fast cuts, what was he thinking?

 

I know Mel Brooks does this for comedic effect, which leads me to believe Lang was trying for comedy effect as well. 

But again, like the "great" John Ford...not all great directors employ the best editors. To be fair, possibly Ford choose the "take" best for the actor, not best for the story flow.

 

RANCHO NOTORIOUS left me with my mouth open. Seemed like Lang was either experimenting or deliberately getting even with someone.

 

Great post.   I would hope Lang was experimenting.    Maybe Timothy Leary visited the set!

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Ooh I recorded this film the other day as I've been trying to see more Marlene Dietrich films.  While Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair didn't do much for me (It's a good possibility that I missed something while watching it), I was intrigued by Marlene Dietrich and since then I've been trying to see what made her such a big star.  Anyway... I'd heard of this film and recorded it.

 

After reading Tiki Soo's, Miss Wonderly's, and everyone else's posts on this film it seems that I'll need to make it a "must watch."  Maybe I'll watch it tomorrow night when I get home from work and settle in for the evening.  I didn't realize the film was directed by Fritz Lang.  Normally, I like his films.  We'll see what happens with Rancho Notorious.  

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The ending of *Rancho Notorious* is in fact ambiguous. . . .

However, if you pay attention to the cheesy song, "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck", then they die soon after that final scene. The last verse goes:

 

Two men rode away from Chuck-A-Luck

And Death rode beside them on the trail

For they died that day, so the legends tell

With empty guns, they fought and fell

And so ends the tale of hate, murder and revenge!

 

So what's up with that? I don't want them to die, and in any case, Vern at least had done nothing to deserve it, even according to the Code.

I think the last shot in the film, Vern and Frenchy riding away into the sunset (so to speak), is Fritz Lang's way of flouting the Code. What you see in the movie is the two heros (I feel Frenchy was as much the hero as Vern ) surviving and starting a new life.

 

Have you considered the possibility that Vern and Frenchy didn't die but, instead, just disappeared, possibily to leave more peaceful lives down Mexico way?

 

The Chuck-a-Luck ballad says they died but then makes a point of saying, "so the legends tell." That, to me, denotes a degree of ambiguity about their fate. If they were really killed in some kind of gun action you'd think there would be someone around to provide a few specifics about their end, rather than just a ballad talking about it.

 

And I figure that the surest way for a person or, in this case, a couple of people, to become legendary is to just disappear. Then the ballads will sing about them and speculate, without our ever really knowing for sure what happened.

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