The Stalking Moon (1969): A Classic Movie Review

The Stalking Moon (1969) Starring Gregory Peck, Eva Marie Sain

Having watched The Law and Jake Wade (1968) recently, I decided to continue working my way through the Warner Home Video Western Classics Collection and watched The Stalking Moon from the same set this afternoon.

The Stalking Moon was recently recommended to me by both my father and by Colin of Riding the High Country, and I enjoyed the movie very much. You can read Colin’s excellent review here.

Sam Varner (Gregory Peck) is an Army frontier scout retiring after 15 years. During his last job Sam helps to rescue Sarah Carver (Eva Marie Saint), who had been captured by the Apaches and lived with them for the past 10 years.

Sarah, who has a young half-Indian son (Noland Clay), is in a sort of “no woman’s land,” having no family left, no money, no home, and a child who will not fit in easily in the East. Sam takes pity on Sarah and invites her to come to his farm in New Mexico to work as his housekeeper.

Sarah’s Apache husband, Salvaje (Nathaniel Narcisco), intends to reclaim his son and proves to be relentless in his pursuit, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake and ultimately laying siege to Sam’s cabin.

Given that the film was made in the late ’60s, the violence is depicted in a restrained fashion, though I honestly would have preferred that the movie had a lower body count. A great many characters — not to mention animals! — die at the hands of Salvaje, a fearsome, tireless killer.

Otherwise, this is an excellent, very well-constructed film with outstanding lead performances by Peck and Saint. Neither character is much for talking, but they convey a world of emotion with their body language and expressions.

The scene where Sam keeps watching Sarah’s sad little figure sitting on the train platform is marvelous, as he mentally argues with himself before making up his mind to offer Sarah a home. Likewise, his attempts to make Sarah and her son comfortable in his presence are quite sweet, as he invites them to eat with him and speak at will, and Sarah’s slow attempts to use English for the first time in years are touching as well. The slow, tentative building of Sam and Sarah’s relationship is thoughtfully and believably depicted, and the gradually increasing suspense in the film’s second half is also extremely well done.

The Nevada locations, standing in for New Mexico, are absolutely stunning, beautifully filmed by Charles Lang. Among other things, the movie is a great visual treat.

Actor Frank Silvera, who plays Peck’s army major boss in the early scenes, was a true chameleon. A Jamaican-born black actor, he had the ability to play a variety of ethnicities. His best-known part may have been his semi-regular role as the powerful Don Sebastian Montoya on The High Chapparal (1967-71), a favorite TV Western I wrote about at length last weekend. After Silvera died in an accident in 1970, his character’s passing was mourned in what turned out to be the final episode of the series, “The New Lion of Sonora.”

The film’s supporting cast also includes Robert Forster, Russell Thorson, and Lonny Chapman. Richard Bull (Mr. Oleson on Little House on the Prairie) plays the army doctor.

The Stalking Moon was directed by Robert Mulligan. The Alvin Sargent screenplay was based on a novel by Theodore Olsen. The movie runs 109 minutes.

I wasn’t wild about Fred Karlin’s score, which at times seemed to place the film a little too firmly in the ’60s, but otherwise this is a beautifully made film. Recommended.

Laura G. is a proofreader and homeschooling parent who is a lifelong film enthusiast.  Laura’s thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005.