Stalking Moon, The (1968)

The Stalking Moon (1968), directed by Robert Mulligan.

A modest scale but seriously toned western thriller that reminds me of two other movies.

The setup is "what if The Searchers (1956) had not had Ethan Edwards?" In his last days before leaving the army, scout Gregory Peck helps round up some loose Apaches and discovers Eva Marie Saint, a white woman captured in a massacre years earlier. She now has a young son. She has lost much of her English and has learned to be stoic and unemotional. Saint is properly worn and unglamorous in the role.

What she does not tell him at first is that the father of her son is a notorious Apache desperado, an implacable persecutor menace. She wants to get the boy out of the area quickly.

After much reluctance, Peck takes the woman and child to his retirement ranch in another state. Almost against his will he starts to construct a family, and the plot now suggests his own Cape Fear (1962), because the father is coming and it is not clear if they will be able to stop him. It becomes a tense siege story.

Westerns became harder during the 1960s, but we still have the elements of traditional nobility here: a mother's love and a man's responsibility to protect the women and children. We never get to know the boy's father, but an unstated aspect of the plot might be: is he wrong? Apart from killing everyone who gets in his way.