|The Stalking Moon (1968)|
For a film which at first seems akin to the traditional captivity narrative, there is a surprising lack of shunning in The Stalking Moon (1968). Sarah Carver, a white woman who was held captive by Apache Indians for ten years, conceiving, giving birth to, and raising a son during that time, is not shunned by the soldiers who find her, nor by the scout who offers to escort her to safety. She is not shunned by the Apache women of her tribe, who stand by as mere set dressing as Sarah chooses to rejoin white society and ask the Army's help in fleeing from her Apache husband, who's on a murderous rampage to reclaim his son. She's given some contemptuous looks at a stagecoach station, where one man makes some hostile comments about Indians, but ultimately this is not a movie concerned with the more complex ramifications of the captivity scenario.
|"You can't escape|
The Stalking Moon"
I would almost say that this is the main reason the film fails as a thriller, and that it does so only in a modern context, if it weren't for other, more fundamental problems it has in setting up its thrills. The suspense leading up to the eventual confrontation with the film's protagonist, the scout, Sam Varner (played by Gregory Peck), is diminished by one of the techniques presumably intended to build it, namely that Salvaje is not seen, even briefly, until he reaches Varner's homestead for the climactic fight. Successful horror movies often withhold from view the face of the killer but give you increasing glimpses — the silhouette of Norman Bates on the shower curtain in Psycho, for example, or the first flashes of fin and teeth in Jaws — or force the audience to see through the killer's eyes in POV shots. The Stalking Moon does neither, and while we await the arrival of Salvaje, we don't necessarily fear it. (The evident trappings of classic Westerns also dull the tension: in the final showdown, the good guy almost always wins.)
|"Aim the gun, dammit!"|
Peck's portrayal of Varner is a bit stiff (more so than the usual Peck), and I'm not convinced that his character really thinks through his offer to bring Sarah and her son home, nor that he is genuinely moved to do so. For me, the emotional high point is when the boy, realizing his father has come for him, runs from Varner's house and tries to reach his father's hiding place. The bond between father and son that this scene implies is stronger than any other interpersonal relationship in the film: that between Sarah and her son, who seems indifferent towards his mother, between Varner and petulant junior scout Nick, who barely conceals his hurt at being left by Varner when the elder scout retires, or between Varner and Sarah, who are paired only out of sympathy and necessity.