Ride the Pink Horse (rewatch)
Posted by martinteller on March 30, 2015
Ride the Pink Horse (rewatch) – I gushed about this in my first review, and my opinion hasn’t altered (the one thing I would change is a correction: the film does not take place in Mexico, it’s a border town in New Mexico). It’s a gem that deserves a wider audience… although I must admit I feel a childish bitterness when Criterion releases one of my favorite lesser-known gems. It’s no longer my own little secret. Now when I praise RtPH, people will think (in the part of my mind that cares about such things) that I only know of it because of Criterion, when goddamn it, I was there first. I know, it’s totally dumb.
But anyway. I still love the film’s crisp dialogue, surreal flourishes, the performances (especially Hendrix and Gomez), the chiaroscuro cinematography by Russell Metty, the presentation of its cynical themes mixed with an air of hopefulness, and its engaging plot. I’ve talked about this before. What I want to address now is something I read in a 2013 review on the Filmspotting forum:
The weak spot for me is Robert Montgomery the actor. His direction is fine, slightly off-beat and really good at capturing the alien feeling of a distant location. The performance reminded me of Dirk Bogarde. The tough dialogue doesn’t sit well with the way he delivers it. He constantly looks and sounds like he’s bluffing, yet his character is supposed to be quite the opposite. I just saw Bogie stepping in telling Montgomery to “lie down before you hurt yourself.”
I think this is a misreading of the character. He is bluffing, he just doesn’t know it. He’s basically a dumb thug who thinks he’s smart just because he’s cautious. He’s worked out a couple of clever tricks, but he doesn’t have the sense to navigate either the traditional world of San Pedro (where would he be without Pila?) or the criminal world. He knows how to punch a guy out and draw a gun, but he’s hopeless against more cunning characters like Frank Hugo and especially Marjorie Lundeen. He’s in over his head. This isn’t Phillip Marlowe we’re talking about. He thinks he’s figured out all the angles, but he hasn’t. By the end of it, he’s being led by the nose, only capable of following the script.
But he learns, eventually. He learns that the people he foolishly wrote off are the ones who really have life figured out. We don’t know where he’s going or what he’s going to do next (and this loose-ends ambiguity is a nice touch) but he’s grown somewhat. And that character arc is part of what makes this movie so satisfying. Rating: Great (90)