THE MOONLIGHTER. Warner Brothers, 1953. Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Ward Bond, William Ching, John Dierkes, Morris Ankrum, Jack Elam. Writer: Niven Busch. Director: Roy Rowland.

   In Warner Brothers’ The Moonlighter, Fred MacMurray portrays a cattle thief who finds himself at odds with not only the law, but also with his brother (William Ching). He also comes into conflict with his own true love (Barbara Stanwyck), who gets fed up with his reckless criminal ways. Typical Western fare, for sure.

   Although the plot may be fairly standard, The Moonlighter is nevertheless an odd film. Not because it’s quirky or because it’s offbeat. No. It’s because of two factors, none of which seem to make much sense. First of all, the film’s running time is a mere 78 minutes, yet it has an intermission! Second, it was released in 3-D, but there’s really nothing in the movie that makes it remotely worthy of that format.

   The cast also makes it an odd film. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck were undoubtedly far too talented for this uneven film. Admittedly, the reunited Double Indemnity (1944) actors do the best they can with the sometimes downright atrocious low-tech dialogue that plagues what could have, with some tweaking, been a much better film. Too much of the dialogue is on the nose, with characters telling each other how much they either love or hate one another. It’s just cringeworthy to listen to these two actors who, it’s clear, deserved a much better script than the one offered here.

   And yet, despite these factors, there are some rather good moments in the film. These include when Fred MacMurray’s character works outside of the law to avenge the death of an innocent man or when Barbara Stanwyck’s character becomes a deputized lawman (or woman!) and rides out on horseback, rifle in tow, to seek justice. In how many movies, can you say that a female law officer shoots and kills a villain portrayed by Ward Bond? Not many, I suppose. That too makes The Moonlighter unique. Whether it’s worth your time depends, however, on how much you like the actors. (This includes the always enjoyable Jack Elam.) Without them, this would have been a completely turgid and forgettable production.