Actors: Robert Montgomery, Thomas Gomez, Wanda Hendrix
Director: Robert Montgomery
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
Release Date: March 17, 2015
Run Time: 101 minutes
Based on the 1946 novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, Robert Montgomery’s film adaptation the following year, Ride the Pink Horse, made minor changes to the narrative to highlight the primary themes found in the B-film crime movies we now categorize as film noir. And so, the novel’s draft-dodging criminal turns into a hardened World War II veteran, unable to find his place in a country he once called home. This minor adjustment turned the narrative from a typical crime film to an embodiment of the post-war paranoia shared by many soldiers returning to the States. Critics and audiences alike have praised Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper in its portrayal of the struggles of coming home from war. This struggle was also behind the success of an entire group of films in the 1940s and 50s, however indirectly it was addressed.
Set in a New Mexican resort town that is distinctly separated by the impoverished locals and the decadent tourists, it is easy to imagine this idea of feeling out of place in your own home country. This is only further enhanced by our grim, out-of-place protagonist, Lucky Gagin (played by Montgomery himself). The war veteran enters the town with a vague plot to blackmail the crime boss responsible for his friend’s death. Gagin’s bold confidence in his plan is only matched by the stubborn swagger of Frank Hugo, the war profiteer played by Fred Clark. The third element to this relationship is an even-keel government agent named Retz (Art Smith), who offers Gagin the opportunity to take Hugo down without any promise of personal profit.
Although shot near
the film is meant to take place in a border town that only fills with wealthy
white tourists during the festival. As luck would have it, the festival occurs at
the same time that Gagin attempts his blackmail plan, and crowded hotels force
him into the native neighborhoods. Two locals help him to survive the visit,
whether in providing him shelter or protection or merely by offering friendship
to the loner. First is an odd country girl named Pila (Wanda Hendrix), who
follows Gagin like a stray dog until he pays her attention and accepts her
help. Even more memorable is the Academy Award-nominated performance from
Thomas Gomez as Pancho, the owner of a small carousel for the children and a
charmingly rambunctious drunk. Pancho is the only character that somehow
manages to break down Gagin’s tough exterior, though he eventually offers much
more than levity for the friendship. Albuquerque
The foundation of this film can be found in nearly a dozen similar narratives since, but this is more than just a historically significant B-film; first and foremost, Ride the Pink Horse is an entertaining and engaging film to watch. Like the title, the film is a bit of an oddity in many ways. Though it begins like many similar film noirs, somehow Gagin’s relationships with Pancho and Pila save the film from the bleak endings we come to expect from these narratives.
The Criterion Blu-ray release of Ride the Pink Horse has a new 2K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The feature film has a commentary track with film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini. There is also a new interview with film noir scholar Imogen Sara Smith, and a radio adaptation of the film with the film’s three most memorable actors reprising their roles. There is also a foldout insert with an essay by filmmaker and writer Michael Almereyda.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 8/10
Special Features: 7.5/10