'The title refers to the beloved 1882 Tio Vivo Carousel, key to the plotline, still up and operating in Taos.'
Universal’s 1947 film noir Ride the Pink Horse finally comes to home media on March 17th 2015.
This long-awaited debut—never before on tape or disc—is of special interest to local Santa Feans as it includes rare 35mm footage of Fiesta. The title refers to the beloved 1882 Tio Vivo Carousel, key to the plotline, still up and operating in Taos.
The prestigious and dedicated Criterion Collection will offer it in remastered form on both Blu-ray ($39.95) and standard DVD ($29.95). Each version includes several extras, including a knowledgeable audio commentary, an expert interview, and an insightful essay, plus the audio-only Lux Radio Theater program with the movie’s stars.
Ride the Pink Horse, which Criterion describes as a “striking crime drama…an overlooked treasure from the heyday of 1940s film noir,” was based on the 1946 novel by Dorothy Belle Hughes, sister of the longtime society columnist Calla Hay of the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Hughes was also the author of The Fallen Sparrow, filmed by RKO in 1943 with Maureen O’Hara and John Garfield, and In a Lonely Place, adapted by Columbia in 1950 with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. Her critical biography of Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote the Perry Mason books, is considered definitive.
The book and movie tell the dark postwar story of Lucky Gagin, a displaced man who has come to the New Mexico border town of “San Pablo” to avenge the killing of his old war buddy. He knows the murderer is a gangster, but so does an FBI agent, also on the same trail. Who will find him first? Aided by a friendly carousel owner, and befriended by his waifish daughter, Gagin finds his mission is threatening his own life. Can he survive to fulfill his quest?
The ordinarily light and debonair Robert Montgomery—father of TV’s Elizabeth “Bewitched” Montgomery—directed and starred, alongside Wanda Hendrix, Fred Clark, and Thomas Gomez, the last of whom was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, the first Hispanic thespian ever to be so honored. (However, not surprisingly, Edmund Gwenn won that year for playing Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street.)
Most of the black-and-white movie was shot on Universal sound stages. The Tio Vivo was dismantled and shipped by train to Hollywood, accompanied by Hughes and Hay (who once described the trip to me as “raucous”). Additionally, La Fonda’s lobby was recreated as an interior set.
However, the movie’s strong suit is the invaluable documentation of a real Santa Fe Fiesta, with a parade circling the Plaza on dirt streets, cheered on by genuine period revelers. And yes, Zozobra is front and center. In fact, the first third of the novel, as a travel-weary Gagin steps off a bus and tries futilely to find lodging amidst the festivities, is called, simply, “Zozobra.” Watch closely in an opening scene in a bus terminal, and you’ll see Montgomery standing by a wall map clearly delineating Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
In addition to the Lux broadcast that same year, Montgomery also headlined the 60-minute fifth episode of the first season of NBC-TV’s “Robert Montgomery Presents,” with Gomez again co-starring, although this time Norman Felton directed. Further, Hughes’ novel became the source of a 1964 remake, in this case a TV-movie called The Hanged Man and re-located to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
Adaptations and remakes notwithstanding, Criterion’s decision to spotlight an otherwise vanished film of great local cachet is to be applauded. It is a greatly appreciated contribution to the New Mexico filmography. Although it used to be a staple of Fiesta, shown every year by a museum or movie theater in conjunction, that tradition has long fallen by the wayside.
Now it comes home at last.