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Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Stalking Moon

Gregory Peck starred in The Stalking Moon, a 1968 Western directed by Robert Mulligan (his director for To Kill a Mockingbird) that explores a familiar theme in Western history--the white woman kidnapped by Indians. There were real cases of this, such as Olivia Oatman and Cynthia Parker, the latter case forming the foundation of the John Ford film The Searchers.

Even in 1968, when Westerns about Indians were taking on a more sympathetic tone for Indians, The Stalking Moon firmly takes the position that a white woman, and her mixed-race son, belong in the white world. Eva Marie Saint is the woman, who has almost lost her ability to speak English. She is discovered in an encampment of Apaches by soldiers who include scout Peck. She wants to leave right away, and convinces Peck to escort her and her son to the nearest stagecoach. He learns that her reason for alacrity is that the father of the boy is a notorious killer who will stop at nothing and murder anyone to get him back.

Despite the danger, Peck feels something for Saint and invites her to live at his newly bought ranch in New Mexico. But the killer, the "stalking moon," still manages to track them down, as he has almost superhuman stealth. It will be a showdown between Peck and the killer.

The Stalking Moon is a good solid Western, with some wonderful vistas and old-fashioned virtues. But again, the automatic assumption that the boy, who knows no English and looks Indian, would be better off in the white world is presumptive. The script, by Alan Sargent, stacks the deck by making the boy's father a murderer, but aside from being removed from his mother, this is not necessarily a damning possibility. The boy's father would simply continue to indoctrinate him in the ways of the Apache, which weren't any better or worse that the ways of white European-Americans.

Unlike Cynthia Parker, the character Sarah plays does want to leave Indian life. Parker wanted to return to the Comanches, which was the only life she knew. Of course, no white person could understand why she would want to do this.

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