“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose… “
Universal International Pictures
Director: Robert Montgomery
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Robert Montgomery as Lucky Gagin
Thomas Gomez (AAN) as Pancho
Wanda Hendrix as Pila
Andrea King as Marjorie Lundeen
Fred Clark as Frank Hugo
Art Smith as Bill Retz
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, and Joan Harrison
Based on the novel Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes (New York, 1946)
Music: Frank Skinner
A bitter disillusioned WW2 vet, Lucky Gagin, arrives in a New Mexico town aiming to blackmail a high-stakes racketeer, and with the help of two locals and a federal agent, he finds more than he bargained for. From the wistfully up-beat Latino rhythm that accompanies the opening credits over a desert vista, you know this movie will take you places beyond noir. This is a film imbued with a deep humanity so rare and moving that you don’t want it to end – the final scene of departure is wrenchingly personal – ‘so long? ah is a sad word, but you make me happy if is not too long’.
The great script from Ben Hecht, elegant direction by star Robert Montgomery, and accomplished photography from DP Russell Metty, are suffused with an aching regret for the loss of a better simpler world, tempered with an idealism and optimistic faith in the integrity and wisdom of ordinary people . The cast is very strong with impressive turns by all the major players. An 18-yo Wanda Hendrix is beguiling as a young peasant girl on her first visit to a big town, who attaches herself to Gagin, and Gomez is superb as Pancho, the poor merry-go-round operator who befriends Gagin.
They don’t make movies like this any more. As John Fawell says in his book , THE HIDDEN ART OF HOLLYWOOD: In Defense of the Studio Era Film (2008): “Hollywood aimed at idealism, it’s true, but its idealism is subsumed under its larger aesthetic of understatement. The best Hollywood directors thought of idealism as they did of sex and violence, all potent ingredients that needed to be doled out carefully. And they had the sense that idealism, to be effective, had to give room to a certain degree of pessimism.” (p 111).