This was a movie that I chased for a little while before I was finally able to see it. A friend of mine stumbled across its existence and on paper it sounded pretty cool (especially with a script by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer). I think my buddy finally tracked down a taped-off-television VHS and rented it from one of Los Angeles' then many thriving and eclectic video stores. I feel like he watched it first and told me about it which built up its mythology even more. When I was able to see it for myself for the first time, I loved it. It was one of those rare gems that we as movie fans are always on the lookout for. It's like that reason that some folk go to garage sales and estate sales - they are hoping to one day find that amazing score that someone else has undervalued. RIDE THE PINK HORSE is that kind of movie and to be honest I wasn't sure when (if ever) it would see any kind of home video release, let alone the deluxe Criterion Collection Blu-ray treatment. When Criterion put out their wacky drawing clue that seemed to be indicating it, I was giddy with the hope that there might be some chance it was true.
Robert Montgomery was not quite a Charles Laughton story of a director, but he was close. Laughton is of course famous for having only directed one amazing film (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER) and then calling it quits. Montgomery directed more than a couple times, the most notable of his efforts (beyond PINK HORSE) being LADY IN THE LAKE which he starred in with Audrey Totter. If you've seen LADY IN THE LAKE you'd remember that the whole film is basically done from the main character's POV. It's not bad, if kinda gimmicky. RIDE THE PINK HORSE is much more memorable in my opinion. In fact, I think it's one of the great underappreciated noirs of all-time. Montgomery directs it well with a fluid camera and some nice touches. He also brings his own specific grumpy character which he had sort of developed over the years into this new environment. It allows for some humor to seep into the movie and makes it that much better. It has a certain kinship with one if the noir heavyweights in OUT OF THE PAST in that both films forfeit the normal urban landscapes for some less than exotic south of the border locales. I'll always link the two films together because of that. It's almost as if Mitchum and Montgomery could end up at the same bar somehow in this conjoined noir-verse. This dusty, less than economically upscale environment somehow fits perfectly for noir. Author Imogen Sara Smith says Mexico is often seen as "..this transient, lawless, desperate place" in the context of these films and and she is right on the money. At least there are police in the city. They may be corrupt but there is at least the illusion of civility there. Things in Mexico seem like all bets are off and nobody can be trusted especially where the "law" is concerned (or at least that's how the American characters perceive it).
I do hope that Criterion bringing it out will allow it to take it's rightful place among classic cinema as the moody, gritty masterpiece that it is. The fact that RIDE THE PINK HORSE is now on Blu-ray gives me new hope for many more obscurities finding their way there as well. It really is a marvelous time to be a cinephile I must say. Whether physical media is actually dying out or just shifting to being more of a niche thing, there definitely seems to be an added urgency about getting older holdout movies out on home video and this is only a good thing for us movie fans.
Outside of a lovely transfer, this disc has a few nice supplements as well.
-an Audio Commentary with film scholars Alain Silver and James Ursini (both are editors of the 5-part reader's series FILM NOIR - THE ENCYCLOPEDIA).
It's a great academic discussion of the movie and just the kind of commentary I've come to expect from Criterion. The perfect thing for settling in to listen to on a Sunday morning with a good cup of coffee. Silver and Ursini must have notes in front of them but they are still pretty laid back and conversational in their approach and definitely not reading anything (which is a kind of pet peeve of mine). They touch on not only the characters and plot but also the filmmaking and Montgomery's approach as a director (stylistically and otherwise) and actor in this film and his other works. Noir thematics and context are also discussed. It's a solid track overall.
-"In Lonely Places" This 20-minute interview with author Imogen Sara Smith is a wonderful watch. Smith wrote the book
In the interview she goes in depth regarding her thoughts on film noir. Her initial assertion that it is not a genre but rather a group of films that are both mood-based and thematic in similarities is a good one and totally makes sense when I think about it. She talks about the claustrophobia and focus on money that a lot of these films have as well. She further focuses on "non-urban noir" films (like RIDE THE PINK HORSE for example) and how Mexico (and the border) is important in the role it plays in noir. She differentiates PINK HORSE from other noir films and also ends up throwing out the titles of other movies that I now want to track down (ONE WAY STREET is one she called out for example). It's a neat interview/chat about the movie. Cool stuff.
-A 60-minute Radio Adaptation of the film (from December of '47) is also included and it features Robert Montgomery, Wanda Hendrix and Thomas Gomez reprising their roles from the movie. These radio versions are always fascinating to listen to for sure.
Look for RIDE THE PINK HORSE over at Criterion.com:
Look for RIDE THE PINK HORSE over at Criterion.com: