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Blu-ray Review Ride the Pink Horse Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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Ride the Pink Horse Blu-ray Review

One of the lesser known film noirs set not in an urban cesspool but in a New Mexican village at festival time, Robert Montgomery’s Ride the Pink Horse is one of the more under-heralded movies of its era. A tale of revenge and redemption that moves with a steady pace while twisting the viewer in knots over its outcome, Ride the Pink Horse deserves to be much more seen and celebrated. Perhaps Criterion’s sparkling new Blu-ray release will accomplish that purpose.



Studio: Criterion

Distributed By: N/A

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)

Subtitles: English SDH

Rating: Not Rated

Run Time: 1 Hr. 41 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray

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Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 03/17/2015

MSRP: $39.95




The Production Rating: 4.5/5

Arriving in San Pablo, New Mexico, to find the man he holds responsible for the death of his friend, ex-G.I. Lucky Gagin (Robert Montgomery) encounters a few bumps along the road before he finally meets up with his prey, war profiteer Frank Hugo (Fred Clark) whom he tries to extort for $30,000 in exchange for a canceled check that will tie Hugo to his friend’s murder. Though friendly locals Pila (Wanda Hendrix) and Pancho (Thomas Gomez) try to help him maneuver through the strange environment and foreign language all around him and an F.B.I. man Bill Retz (Art Smith) does his best to persuade Gagin to cooperate with Uncle Sam to bring down Hugo, Lucky is determined to do things his way, a stubborn insistence that may well cost him his life.

The script by award-winning screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer based on the noir tome by Dorothy B. Hughes lightens the mood considerably from the heavy book with its especially bitter antihero and truly despicable villains, aided by star Robert Montgomery’s fluid and sometimes fanciful direction. Montgomery captures well the local color of this Mexican border town (even though it was shot on the Universal backlot) by staging the local festival with its giddy parade, all in contrast to the murky maneuverings of the wealthy but rotten Hugo and his lethal henchmen who include, as all good noirs must, the requisite femme fatale, this time played by Andrea King. There’s also strong contrast established between the mercenary Americans and the more solid, more trustworthy natives like Pancho and Pila who aren’t interested in money as much as living in peace and contentment. The scenes involving the carousel which furnishes both the book and the film their titles (representing alternately the innocence of youthful larks and later Lucky’s salvation) are also beautifully directed by Montgomery. The film’s last quarter hour in which the injured and possibly dying protagonist reenacts in mime his initial scenes in the movie as the villains go in for the kill keeps viewers on tenterhooks with its carefully modulated suspense, and the unpredictable ending which doesn’t go for a traditional final clinch gives the movie its own unique signature.

Brusque and often insulting in the early going, Lucky Gagin as played by Robert Montgomery goes through a gradual transformation as the film runs, learning as he does the true worth of the earthy, penniless peasants whom he had rather casually looked down on previously. In the latter half of his acting career, this kind of tough guy character became a specialty of Montgomery’s, and he’s aces as both the film’s star and director. Wanda Hendrix as the innocent but overseeing Pila offers a very appealing performance of a character with much more courage than one might expect she possesses. Thomas Gomez is likewise engaging and admirable as the loyal Pancho, willing to take a beating to save his newfound friend. Fred Clark as the oily, self-involved villain Hugo does some of the best work of his career in a juicy part in which a fancy hearing aid plays a major role in establishing his character. Andrea King is a great femme fatale, mainly because her true aims are never as readily apparent as they seem, and even though Lucky is wise to her potential danger, he nevertheless falls into one of her man traps. Art Smith does a great job underplaying F.B.I. agent Retz, the man who if Lucky had heeded his initial warnings could have made for a short subject noir instead of a feature film (one of the film’s climactic ironies).



Video Rating: 5/5  3D Rating: NA

The film is framed at its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and is presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Apart from the opening titles which appear slightly soft (often the case in film opticals), the film transfer is a beautiful job all around. Sharpness is outstanding throughout, and the grayscale offers rich black levels and clean, appealing whites. Contrast has been well maintained, and the details in the dark shadows are very impressive indeed. The movie has been divided into 12 chapters.



Audio Rating: 4/5

The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is very typical of its era. The dialogue has been excellently recorded so that nothing is lost when paired with Frank Skinner’s music score or the sound effects of the local festival and other situations. In the quieter scenes, there is a trace of low-level hiss still present, and once or twice there is a tiny bit of crackly distortion at the upper reaches of the sound level, but they are but momentary problems and not harmful to a full enjoyment of the presentation.



Special Features Rating: 3.5/5

Audio Commentary: noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini offer an outstanding commentary track analyzing the movie expertly and offering background information on many of the major players.

In Lonely Places (19:58, HD): in a 2014 interview, noir historian Imogen Sara Smith offers her views of the noir film movement (she doesn’t consider it a genre) and differentiates between urban noirs and non-urban ones (which Ride the Pink Horse falls into).

Lux Radio Theater (59:32): a late 1947 radio adaptation of the movie featuring the film’s stars Robert Montgomery, Wanda Hendrix, and Thomas Gomez.

Fold-out Pamphlet: offers some black and white stills from the movie, the cast and crew list, information on the film’s transfer, and an entertaining analysis of the movie by filmmaker and writer Michael Almereyda.

Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.



Overall Rating: 4.5/5

A great film noir with an engaging cast of unusual characters and a story which offers some wonderfully welcome surprises, Ride the Pink Horse makes a terrific addition to the Blu-ray film noir library. Highly recommended!


Reviewed By: Matt Hough


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Robert Crawford

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Hell, I preordered this one on opening day. No way I was going to wait on any sales. Never in my wildest dreams I thought this excellent, but little known film noir would be out on BD and from Criterion to boot. Thanks for the fine review as I eagerly await March 17th.
 

JohnMor

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Strangely, I had never even heard of this film. This is a definite blind buy for me, although I am waiting for the next Criterion sale. Can't wait to check this film out!
 

Robin9

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I've just watched this. A brilliant disc of a really interesting film.
 

Ronald Epstein

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Oh, Robin, I just recently watched this film for the first time and it was fantastic.


INTERESTING is a really good word. It does perfectly describe this film ... in a good way.
 

Mark-W

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One thing to note, for those that have not yet seen Out of the Past or The Killers, the commentary track on Ride the Pink Horse contains major spoilers for those two films.
 

Peter Apruzzese

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I just watched this one for the first time last night (courtesy of the Criterion flash sale last week) and it's a damn fine picture. Knew nothing about it other than the star/director and a bit of the plot. What a knockout of a movie, recommended without reservation.
 

JoeStemme

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This Noir is about as strange as it's awkward title. Robert Montgomery's Gagin is out to avenge the mysterious death of old army buddy. It leads him to a small New Mexico town and the oily rich Hugo (Fred Clark). Along the way Gagin befriends a local merry-go-round operator Pancho (Thomas Gomez), a federal agent (Art Smith) and Hugo's shifty moll Marjorie (Andrea King). But, it is a petite local Hispanic girl Pila (Wanda Hendrix) who becomes, in many ways, the most important character. Fine screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer adapted (with the uncredited help of the film's Producer, Joan Harrison) the book of the same name by Dorothy Hughes. The story and the script are good enough (and the line: "Dead fish with a lot of perfume on 'em" is a classic of the genre), but Montgomery's Direction and, especially, Acting aren't up to the task. The best Directed bits seem more the work of Russell Metty's cinematography (especially the opening train scene and the merry-go round bit with Pancho and the hit men) than any real feel for the material. Montgomery was a competent actor, but, a tough guy he wasn't. His performance here reeks of just that - a performance. For all of his 'dees, dames and 'dats, he simply doesn't inhabit the character. Hendrix' Pila is an odd creation. She's almost like a ghostly apparition that follows and haunts Gagin, while also being like some kind of guardian angel. There's also no getting around the fact that the diminutive (barely over five feet tall) actress comes off as child, especially compared to the 25 years her senior, Montgomery. Hendrix was 18, but reads as much younger, especially with her mousy latina mannerisms. She was also stunningly gorgeous adding to her aura as a woman-child. It gives the film a creepy aura over and above its actual storyline. Where the screenplay (and, again, the direction) really falter is the weak finale. The last third of the film meanders all over the place, and climactic scene similarly peters out where it needed to be strongest. RIDE THE PINK HORSE is far from an essential Noir, mainly memorable for Gomez performance (the first Hispanic actor to get an Oscar Nomination) and Hendrix's uncanny Pila.
 

Robert Crawford

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This Noir is about as strange as it's awkward title. Robert Montgomery's Gagin is out to avenge the mysterious death of old army buddy. It leads him to a small New Mexico town and the oily rich Hugo (Fred Clark). Along the way Gagin befriends a local merry-go-round operator Pancho (Thomas Gomez), a federal agent (Art Smith) and Hugo's shifty moll Marjorie (Andrea King). But, it is a petite local Hispanic girl Pila (Wanda Hendrix) who becomes, in many ways, the most important character. Fine screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer adapted (with the uncredited help of the film's Producer, Joan Harrison) the book of the same name by Dorothy Hughes. The story and the script are good enough (and the line: "Dead fish with a lot of perfume on 'em" is a classic of the genre), but Montgomery's Direction and, especially, Acting aren't up to the task. The best Directed bits seem more the work of Russell Metty's cinematography (especially the opening train scene and the merry-go round bit with Pancho and the hit men) than any real feel for the material. Montgomery was a competent actor, but, a tough guy he wasn't. His performance here reeks of just that - a performance. For all of his 'dees, dames and 'dats, he simply doesn't inhabit the character. Hendrix' Pila is an odd creation. She's almost like a ghostly apparition that follows and haunts Gagin, while also being like some kind of guardian angel. There's also no getting around the fact that the diminutive (barely over five feet tall) actress comes off as child, especially compared to the 25 years her senior, Montgomery. Hendrix was 18, but reads as much younger, especially with her mousy latina mannerisms. She was also stunningly gorgeous adding to her aura as a woman-child. It gives the film a creepy aura over and above its actual storyline. Where the screenplay (and, again, the direction) really falter is the weak finale. The last third of the film meanders all over the place, and climactic scene similarly peters out where it needed to be strongest. RIDE THE PINK HORSE is far from an essential Noir, mainly memorable for Gomez performance (the first Hispanic actor to get an Oscar Nomination) and Hendrix's uncanny Pila.
You're welcome to your opinion, but I disagree with it as it's essential Film Noir to me.
 

Robin9

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I currently have a backlog of discs to watch but when I've caught up, I'm going to have another session with this marvellous movie.
 

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