Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Rancho Notorious (1952)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Rancho Notorious (1952)

In Fritz Lang's third (and last) western, a quirky, noirish, dream-like, Technicolored frontier revenge western for RKO Pictures, with a distinctive, stylized (set-bound) story with perverse Freudian overtones; following Destry Rides Again (1939), this was the second Western specifically written for star Marlene Dietrich:

  • the film's opening thematic ballad and recurring song during the opening credits was: "Legend of Chuck-a-Luck" - emphasizing the refrain of "Hate, Murder, and Revenge" - the deadly forces of fate; some of the lyrics were: "O, listen to the Legend of Chuck-a-Luck, Chuck-a-Luck, Listen to the Wheel of Fate As round and round with a whisperin' sound It spins, it spins The old, old story of Hate, Murder and Revenge!"
    [Note: Chuck-a-Luck referred to a roulette-style gambling game, both a gambler's vertical wheel and the Wheel of Fate.]
  • an engaged couple to be married in eight days in the year 1873 were introduced; they were in the town of Whitmore, Wyoming in the Assayer's Office (part of the General Store): cattle ranch-hand Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy) and his sweetheart Beth Forbes (Gloria Henry) - who worked in her father's store; before Vern left, he presented her with a beautiful, jewel-studded brooch ("Came from Paris in France"); outside, he jump-hopped up with his left leg into his horse's stirrup, just as two other riders passed behind him
  • shortly later, Beth was shockingly raped and murdered (off-screen) by one of the two riders (deadly outlaw Kinch (Lloyd Gough)), after Beth was forced to open the Assayer's office safe to bags of money; Vern was told the horrible news when alerted: "Vern, I don't know how to tell you this. She wasn't spared anything"; the scene ended on a close-up of Beth's bloody hand, clawlike in death
The Opening Robbery-Murder Sequence

Beth Opening Assayer's Office Safe

Thief/Rapist/Murderer Kinch

Rape-Murder of Beth Forbes, Vern's Fiancee
  • Vern went on a vengeful pursuit of the two culprits with a sheriff's posse and then proceeded on his own; he found a mortally-wounded Whitey (John Doucette), the long, white-haired partner of the murderer, who had been shot in the back after a quarrel over the stolen money by his double-crossing partner Kinch; when asked: "Where did he head?", the dying Whitey provided Vern with a single "Rosebud"-type clue to the guilty man's destination: the word 'Chuck-a-Luck' (referring to a casino gambling game) - but Vern needed more information to make sense of the clue

Vern Was Given A Clue by a Dying Whitey to the Destination of Beth's Killer

Vern's Killing of Wanted Outlaw Ace Maguire

Vern's Befriending of Frenchy Fairmont in Jail
  • during his relentless search for Beth's surviving outlaw killer, he inquired about the name 'Chuck-a-Luck' in a barber shop - he ended up in a brutal fist-fight with wanted outlaw Ace Maguire (Frank Graham), and was briefly apprehended after killing the man; after a quick release, he needed to make the connection from 'Chuck-a-Luck' to a name he had heard during the fist-fight with the outlaw: Altar Keane
  • a flashbacked memory from the Deputy Sheriff revealed that Altar Keane was a notorious saloon belle of the West, who competed with other floozies as they rode piggy-back on men's backs across a barroom floor
  • in his continuing obsessive quest, in Virginia City, Vern also learned from Altar's ex-friend Maxine (Lisa Ferraday) that Altar was a singer who loved horses - and she was a "glory girl" who had an eye for men; shortly later, in Tascosa, Vern also heard from ex-saloon owner Baldy Gunder (William Frawley) that seven years earlier, Altar was fired from her Baldy's Palace saloon job and left with an infamous and handsome gunslinger-sharpshooter named Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer) ("Faster on the draw than a Mexican jack rabbit") after he had helped her win big at the 'Chuck-a-Luck' roulette wheel; she proceeded on a stage south to Silver City the next day
  • to learn more about Altar from Frenchy, Vern deliberately had himself jailed on election day (by shooting up a saloon to get a prohibited drink) in order to befriend Frenchy who was incarcerated in the town of Gunsight; afterwards, he helped to orchestrate their escape and the two proceeded to a secluded horse ranch near the Mexican border - it was named 'Chuck-a-Luck'
  • there, Frenchy was close friends with ex-saloon singer and dance hall queen Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) who was the proprietor/manager of Chuck-a-Luck, a known safe haven for outlaws located close to the Mexican border; she explained the rules if he agreed: "Any friend of Frenchy's is welcome at Chuck-a-Luck, if he agrees to the rules....We don't do any fighting here, we don't ask any questions, and everybody does his share of work"; she harbored thieves, cattle rustlers and killers in exchange for 10% of the proceeds of their crimes; Vern was immediately suspicious of one of the outlaws - womanizing Wilson (George Reeves, TV's Superman), with a scar on his left cheek
  • Vern noticed, in a startling moment, that Keane - on the night of her birthday celebration - was wearing the jewel-studded brooch (on her fancy gown) that he had given to Beth moments before her death - therefore, Beth's murderer was presumably someone at the ranch who had given Keane the brooch - the camera took Vern's POV as he looked at all the outlaws as suspects
Vern Spotting the Brooch Worn by Altar Keane
  • in private with Keane, Vern asked about how she had obtained her jewelry, and she reprimanded him for asking questions at the hideaway: "I guess things have to be explained double to you! There are no questions here. None! You don't ask people who they are or where they came from or where they're going, or if the sand is dry, or the moon is yellow! And you blame well don't ask me where I get my jewelry! It's not of your business. The rules of Chuck-a-Luck are meant to be kept. And if you don't intend to keep them, you can clear out right now"
  • a love triangle developed between Frenchy, Vern, and Keane - Vern attempted to get close to Keane in order to discover who killed Beth
  • Kinch revealed (to Wilson) that Vern was the same rider he had seen with an unusual horse mounting technique that he had observed outside Beth's Assayer's Office in Wyoming just before her robbery/murder at the film's start: ("That's who he is! I knew I'd seen him before! The way he climbs up on a horse!...(in) a little town up in Wyoming") - he then made a threat: "Take my word for something. The sooner he gets a bullet through his head, the better"
  • during a semi-romantic scene, Keane, after Vern asked more questions about her past (and her jewelry), told him to leave her life for good: "I wish you'd go away and come back ten years ago. Go, Vern. I don't want you any more. I mean it. Get off my ranch and leave me alone"
  • after being forced to participate in a disastrous bank robbery attempt in Clay Springs, Vern returned to 'Chuck-a-Luck' to romance Keane - he impertinently brought up his continued desire to see her dressed up like she was on her birthday: ("I aim to get slapped again, if I can...I like a woman who's sometimes cold like ice, sometimes burning like the sun. A pipe dream in blue jeans or in a birthday dress. Now give me one wish, and I'd wish to see a rig like that again - a shawl and jewels and all. Just like that night. What are you gonna do about it?") - they kissed, and then she obliged by wearing her gown and brooch
  • Vern persistently questioned Keane about who gave her the brooch - and she finally divulged Kinch was the hideout's murderer: "Kinch gave it to me" - Vern became incensed: "Kinch? It was Kinch"; it was clear to her what had been festering in his mind as he explained: "Now the game is over and I can tell you what's been chokin' me every minute since I chased after ya, and tell ya who wore that brooch before you did? It was a girl. A girl that I was gonna marry! A girl the last time I saw was lying on the floor, outraged and butchered by the man who took that from her, and gave it to you for ten per cent of her life!...She's right there on the floor right in front of ya. And she's got blue, blue eyes. Do you feel 'em starin' at ya, do you see the blood on the floor, do you hear her screaming?"; he was angered by her complicity: "You think a dance-hall girl was a dirty life? You oughta be proud of that compared to what you are now!"; he snatched the brooch from her dress

Keane Honoring Vern's Request to Wear Dress and Brooch

Vern's Intense Anger at Learning from Keane That Kinch Had Killed His Fiancee

Vern's Stand-Off Against Kinch
  • in a bar, Vern slid the brooch down the length of the counter to where Kinch was seated; Vern challenged Kinch to a stand-off gunfight, but Kinch refused to draw his gun; the killer was saved from being gunned down when Vern was jailed by the local sheriff
  • soon after a jailbreak, a climactic showdown followed at 'Chuck-a-Luck' between Frenchy and Keane (joined by Vern) against Kinch and all the other outlaws including Wilson; the outlaws ganged up when they feared that Keane was going to betray all of them; in the concluding gunfight, Kinch was killed (by Frenchy), Wilson was shot dead (by Vern), and Keane was mortally wounded when she shielded Frenchy and took a bullet for him in the chest - she died on her bed between Vern and Frenchy; now alone, Frenchy rode off with Vern
Showdown: Resulting in Death of Keane

Vern (Arthur Kennedy) with Fiancee Beth (Gloria Henry)

Brooch Presented by Vern to Beth

Vern's Unusual Horse Mounting Technique (a Left Foot Hop-Up to the Stirrup) - Ultimately an Important Tip-Off

Vern's Vengeful Quest

Flashback: Memories of Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich)

Flashback: Frenchy Fairmont at Baldy's Palace in Front of 'Chuck-a-Luck' Game

At 'Chuck-a-Luck', Frenchy was Reunited with Its Boss Altar Keane

Outlaw Wilson (George Reeves)

Vern Was Seated Next to Kinch - Not Knowing He was Beth's Killer

Vern Reprimanded After Asking About Keane's Jewelry

Love Triangle: Vern, Keane, and Frenchy

Kinch's Revelation That He Had Seen Vern Before

"Go, Vern. I don't want you anymore"

Ending Image - Two Riders


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z