“That’s the kind of man I like — the man with no place.”

Lucky Gagin (Robert Montgomery) has traveled to New Mexico in search of Frank Hugo (Fred Clark) — and revenge.

Ride the Pink Horse Criterion Cover
(Image via The Criterion Collection)

Hugo was responsible for the death of Gagin’s friend, Shorty Thompson. Gagin plans to blackmail Hugo to avenge Shorty’s death and line his own pockets.

Soon after arriving in town, Lucky meets Pila (Wanda Hendrix), a mysterious young woman who gives him a good luck charm. He also meets (though not all at once) Hugo’s girlfriend Marjorie (Andrea King), quirky carousel operator Pancho (Thomas Gomez), and government agent Bill Retz (Art Smith).

Naturally, everyone has an opinion about his vendetta against Hugo, but Lucky presses on. Will he succeed in his quest, or find more trouble than he bargains for?

Leading man Robert Montgomery directs 1947’s Ride the Pink Horse. The film was written by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer from a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes.

I knew nothing about this film going in other than that it is a crime film, and that it was directed by Robert Montgomery. Montgomery’s time behind the camera seems to be the main draw for most viewers. He only directed a few films, but most of us who have the opportunity to watch it agree that Ride the Pink Horse stands as a testament to his talent — and to what could have been.

Gagin’s slow, sneaky, deliberate movements in the film’s opening moments drew me in immediately. The ominous warning and talisman from Pila hooked me, too. What dangers await the suspicious, gun-toting Robert Montgomery?

The film kept its grip on me as its secrets unraveled. The rants and confrontations are nearly on par with some of those delivered by my favorite on-screen ranter, Barbara Stanwyck. The film has a wonderful sense of tension throughout and does a good job of keeping the viewer uncertain about how things will resolve.

Ride the Pink Horse Still
(Image via The Criterion Collection)

Some fantastic cinematography and supporting performances make the film well worth a watch beyond the curiosity about its star-director. I particularly loved Andrea King as the conniving Marjorie. The Gagin/Retz and Gagin/Pancho friendships were a lot of fun to watch, too. (Gagin and Retz reminded me a bit of Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains in Casablanca!)

I do wish the character of Pila was given more to do. She spends a good portion of the film following Montgomery around like a loyal pup. There are hints of fire within her — the look of satisfaction on her face when she tells Pancho a man is dead, for example — but I wanted to see more.

That’s really my only complaint about the film, though! I very much enjoyed Ride the Pink Horse. It’s a gripping crime story, and a somewhat unusual one, which kept my attention from the first minute to the last. Recommended!