'Sky Full of Moon' Is for Connosseurs of the 1950's Almost-stars

This modest B picture from MGM offers unique pleasures and allows us to explore the mystery of writer-director Norman Foster.

Sky Full of Moon

Director: Norman Foster
Cast: Carleton Carpenter, Jan Sterling
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1952
USDVD release date: 2014-04-15

Now available on demand from Warner Archive, this modest B picture from MGM offers unique pleasures and allows us to explore the mystery of writer-director Norman Foster.

This is the almost-nothing-happens, not-quite-romance between a tall, gangling, aw-shucks, naive young cowpoke (Carleton Carpenter) and a tight-sweatered blonde (Jan Sterling) who always seems about two minutes away from taking his cash and leaving him flat. The story is so light and anecdotal, it's a wonder it stretches to 70 minutes, but those 70 engage the viewer enough to see it through as our cowboy chalks up a learning experience.

The characters may be cliches, but they're agreeable, and the movie spends much of its time simply observing their behavior as they wander around Las Vegas like a couple of rubes. And what scenes of 1952 Vegas are here. You won't believe how poky and podunk is this dazzling sin city, and it's all captured in crystalline location photography on a pristine print that seems never to have run through a projector. Further, Foster's dawdling script reveals that the characters are deeper and more thoughtful than they seem at first, such as the initially hostile and barely tolerant proprietor (Keenan Wynn) of the slot-machine joint where our young drink of water has his first run of luck.

In its modest way, this movie reminds me distantly of Foster's Rachel and the Stranger, one of the most decent and humane westerns I've ever seen. If we wish to trace the resonance back further, let's recall that Foster played the innocent farmboy who experiences a bittersweet romantic encounter in the original 1933 State Fair. That pre-Code project implied more than this 1952 B could, but we can always squint between the lines; this Romeo and his Julie-baby spend the night in the desert and remark that they didn't get any sleep. That's during the final reel, suddenly contrived with action about driving through the desert; it symbolizes, or rather reifies, their relationship's rocky road.

Foster turned out this project between writing and directing two more personal and unusual films: the same year's Navajo, an Oscar-nominated ethnographic docudrama with an Indian cast, and the following year's Sombrero, a Technicolor floperoo that sounds wild. These are still unseen by me, alas, but I'm on the lookout. After this, he spent a profitable career directing period adventures for Disney's TV shows, especially tales of Davy Crockett and Zorro, and ending up in adult TV westerns of the late '60s.

For film buffs, the Foster mystery is embodied by the dazzling Journey Into Fear, an Orson Welles picture in all but the director's credit. The viewer takes one look at the visual flourishes and wonders if Foster did anything, and that's unfair. Prior to this, he'd done a good job directing the Mr. Moto pictures with Peter Lorre, plus one of the best Charlie Chans (Charlie Chan at Treasure Island). He'd also worked on a Mexican segment of Welles' unfinished It's All True. Still, the evidence suggests that Foster concentrated on the writing (especially his own) over "style", and spent most of his time on set coaxing good work from his actors.

This movie is also for connosseurs of the era's almost-stars. Carpenter's Hollywood career peaked early in 1950, when he provided support in an auspicious string of musicals (most famously singing "Aba Daba Honeymoon" with Debbie Reynolds in Two Weeks with Love and Father of the Bride -- and here he is, two years later, ambling through a minor B. Hardbitten specialist Sterling was two years away from a supporting Oscar for The High and the Mighty. She was in some good pictures, but never got higher or mightier. Lanky cowboy coot Hank Worden dominates the opening scene, howling with his feet up a few years before The Searchers. And the biggest almost-star, perhaps, is Foster, whose intelligent work never broke him into auteur heaven. At least he had the moon.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.