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Film / Rancho Notorious

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Rancho Notorious is a 1952 Western film shot in Technicolor, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Marlene Dietrich as the matron of a criminal hideout called Chuck-a-Luck. Arthur Kennedy and Mel Ferrer play rivals for her attention in this tale of frontier revenge.

Vern Haskell (Kennedy), a nice ranch hand, seeks out to avenge his fiancé's death when she is raped and killed during a robbery. His revenge leads him to Chuck-a-Luck, Altar Keane's (Deietrich) ranch set up to hide criminals, and he finds more than he bargains for.

Rancho Notorious contains examples of:

  • All-Knowing Singing Narrator: The ballad "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck" is heard during the opening credits and throughout the film, using the lyrics as narration. According to the American Film Institute, this is the first American film to use a song in this manner.
  • Bank Robbery: Frenchy plans a bank robbery that involves most of the outlaws in Chuck-a-Luck. Things fall part when Kinch takes a shot at Vern partway through the robbery.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Plenty of people are fatally shot, but the only time blood is seen on the screen is when Frenchy is wounded in the shoulder.
  • The Chanteuse: Altar was a saloon singer before coming into the money that allowed to found Chuck-a-Luck. This provides justification for Dietrich to sing several sings during the film.
  • Chatty Hairdresser: Vern gets a haircut from a typically loquacious barber while searching for clues to Chuck-a-Luck's location.
  • Conveniently Placed Sharp Thing: After being bound by Vern, Wilson is able to cut his hands free by rubbing the rope on a nearby grindstone.
  • Fixing the Game: The chuck-a-luck game in Baldy Gunder's saloon is fixed. The wheel spinner initially thinks Altar is shilling for the house when she tosses a $20 gold piece on table and ensures she wins. She keeps winning until Baldy steps in and orders her to lose. However, Frenchy intervenes, takes over the wheel, and ensures she wins the final spin.
  • Get into Jail Free: Vern shoots up the saloon in Gunsight so he will be arrested and placed in the same cell as Frenchy.
  • Hat Damage: During the firefight at Chuck-a-Luck, Frenchy shoots Comanche's hat off his head, forcing him to duck his head down again.
  • In the Back: Kinch murders his partner Whitey by shooting him in the back during a No Honor Among Thieves betrayal.
  • Jail Bake: The crooked sheriff of Gunsight attempts to smuggle a lockpick to his cronies in jail by hiding it inside a bottle of whisky. Due to a mix-up, the bottle winds up in Vern's hands instead.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Kinch shoots his partner Whitey In the Back when Whitey demands that they split the loot from the Whitlock robbery immediately, rather than waiting till they reach Chuck-a-Luck.
  • Outlaw Town: Altar Keane runs a horse ranch named Chuck-a-Luck that is really a cover for a hideout and base of operations for outlaws on the run.
  • Pistol-Whipping: The ex-sheriff of Gunsight tricks his former deputy into bending over, then knocks him out with his pistol before breaking his cronies out of jail.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: After Kinch has finished looting the safe, he turns and leers at Beth, who gets a look of horror on her face as realises what is about to occur. It then cuts to outside shot of the store where a single female scream is heard.
  • Signature Item Clue: Vern sees Altar wearing the one-of-a-kind brooch that he gave to Beth on the day that she was murdered, and knows that one of the outlaws in Chuck-a-Luck must be the murderer.
  • Slip into Something More Comfortable: When Vern and Altar are alone at Chuck-a-Luck, Altar sends Vern out of the house to deal with his horse. When he returns, she has changed from her grubby ranch clothes into the slinky black dress he had asked her to wear for him earlier.
  • Something Else Also Rises: When Altar and Frenchy reunite after being separated by Frenchy being in jail, they embrace passionately. The camera pans from their embrace to the fire Frenchy had been trying to light in the fireplace, which suddenly bursts into flame.
  • Taking the Bullet: During the final gun battle, Altar steps in front of a bullet Wilson fires at Frenchy. However, due to the chaos of the gunfight, no one realise what she has done or that she has been fatally wounded till after the fight is over.