Ride the Pink Horse

Ride the Pink Horse is a 1947 film noir crime film produced by Universal Studios. It was directed by the actor Robert Montgomery from a screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, which was based on the 1946 novel of the same name by Dorothy B. Hughes. The drama also features Montgomery as the main character. Thomas Gomez was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.

Ride the Pink Horse
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Montgomery
Produced byJoan Harrison
Screenplay byBen Hecht
Charles Lederer
Based onRide the Pink Horse
by Dorothy B. Hughes
StarringRobert Montgomery
Music byFrank Skinner
CinematographyRussell Metty
Edited byRalph Dawson
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • October 8, 1947 (1947-10-08) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States

An army veteran known only as Gagin travels to San Pablo, a rural New Mexican town, to avenge the death of his old war time buddy. As a man devoid of identity, some of the villagers refer to Gagin as "the man with no place."

A common theme in noir films is the post-war disillusionment experienced by many soldiers returning to a peacetime economy, which was mirrored in the sordidness of the urban crime film. In these films a serviceman returns to find his sweetheart unfaithful or a good friend dead. The war continues, but now the antagonism turns with a new viciousness toward American society itself. In Ride the Pink Horse, Gagin's quest to avenge his friend's death leads him to a small village in rural New Mexico, an unusual setting for the noir motif more typically associated with corrupt urban environments.[1]


Lucky Gagin (Robert Montgomery) arrives on a bus in San Pablo, a small rural town in New Mexico during its annual fiesta. He plans to confront and blackmail a mobster named Frank Hugo (Fred Clark) as retribution for the death of his best friend Shorty. He unpacks a Colt .45 pistol from his luggage, sticks it in his waistband, places a check which incriminates Hugo in locker 250, and hides the locker key behind a framed map in the bus depot waiting room using a piece of chewing gum.

Because of the fiesta, Gagin cannot find a room at the hotel by the bus station. He is directed to the non-tourist side of the town. At the merry-go-round there, he meets Pila (Wanda Hendrix) who takes him to the La Fonda Hotel and gives him a "charm of Ishtam" that she says will protect him.

At the hotel, Gagin uses a ruse to find out that Frank Hugo is in room 315. Gagin comes, uninvited, into the hotel room, and proceeds to knock out Jonathan (Richard Gaines), Hugo's private secretary. Marjorie Lundeen (Andrea King), a sophisticated female acquaintance of Hugo's, comes in and uses her wiles trying to learn more about him. When the telephone rings, Gagin answers and impersonates a bell boy. Speaking with Hugo, he learns that Hugo will not be there that day. Gagin leaves the room and in the hotel lobby, he is accosted by FBI agent Bill Retz (Art Smith). In his conversation with Gagin, Retz recounts the plot so far. Retz takes Gagin to lunch and tells Gagin to lay off with his plot for revenge on Frank Hugo.

Still looking for a room, Gagin ends up at the Cantina de las Tres Violetas, where Pila is inexplicably sitting outside. Going inside, Gagin finds himself to be the only non-Hispanic in the bar. He buys himself a large whiskey and pays for it with a twenty dollar bill. The barkeep can only make change for ten dollars and the situation is resolved by Pancho (Thomas Gomez), who proposes that Gagin buy ten dollars worth of drinks for everyone in the bar.

Gagin, having spent twenty dollars at the bar, accompanies Pancho back to his tiovivo (carousel) where Pancho puts him up for the night. Pila arrives at the merry-go-round and ends up sleeping in one of the seats on the carousel. Retz also shows up and warns Gagin of the toughs and tells him that if he could readily find Gagin, so will the toughs.

The next morning, Gagin goes back to the hotel where he meets Frank Hugo, who wears a hearing aid. Gagin tells Hugo that he has check number 6431 and proceeds to layout the blackmail. They agree to meet that evening at the Tip Top Cafe, where Hugo will pay Gagin the thirty thousand dollars for the incriminating check.

Retz meets Gagin and "officially" asks for the evidence, which Gagin refuses to hand over. Gagin takes Pila to lunch and they are interrupted by the arrival of Marjorie Lundeen. She lays out a scheme for how to shakedown Frank Hugo for even more money, but Gagin does not go along with Marjorie's plan.

After the lunch, Gagin returns to the bus depot where he retrieves the check and follows the fiesta crowd to the Tip Top Cafe. He meets with Hugo, who is having dinner with his associates. Hugo tells Gagin that the bank messenger with the money will be late. Marjorie invites Gagin to dance with her, and in order to not be seen by Hugo, she walks Gagin outside to a dark alley. There, she tells him that there is no messenger, but someone else. The response to Gagin's query as to who is coming is two toughs who jump him. In the ensuing fight, one of them stabs Gagin in the right shoulder with a knife. Retz finds the two toughs in the alley, one dead and one with a broken arm, and confronts Hugo at the dining table. While the police search the area, Pila finds Gagin in the bushes, pulls the knife out of his back, and together they make their way back to Pancho and the merry-go-round.

Gagin gives the check to Pila, who hides it in her bustier. Two toughs come to the tiovivo. With Gagin hidden in one of the seats by Pila, and children riding the carousel, the toughs proceed to severely beat Pancho, who does not divulge the presence of Gagin. Gagin, whose health and mental state are failing, agrees to go with Pila back by bus to her village of San Melo. While they are waiting in the Tres Violetas, they are found by Locke (Edward Earle) and Lundeen. When Locke approaches the now passed out Gagin, Pila hits him with a bottle and they make their escape, leaving Marjorie to find Locke lying on the floor the cantina.

Gagin makes his way back to the La Fonda Hotel, where Pila finds him outside room 315. The door is opened by one of Hugo's toughs and the duo is brought into the room,where Frank Hugo, Marjorie Lundeen, Jonathan, and the two toughs are present. Hugo begins to question the now incoherent Gagin, who does not remember where the check is. He is beaten by one of the toughs, who then proceed to also beat Pila. Retz arrives, disarms the toughs, breaks Hugo's hearing aid, and ultimately gets the check from Gagin.

At a two dollar breakfast the next day with Retz, Gagin refuses to eat. Retz tells Gagin that he should say goodbye to Pila and Pancho, and together they return to the merry go round. Gagin bids adieu to Pancho, and then, uncomfortably, to Pila, to whom he returns the Ishtam charm. As Retz and Gagin leave, Pila, who had been somewhat of an outcast with her peers, is surrounded by them. She recounts the story of her adventure and realizes that now she is the center of attention among her group.


Production notes

The antique "Tio Vivo Carousel" built in 1882 in Taos, New Mexico, was the model for the carousel in the novel Ride The Pink Horse. It was purchased by the producers and shipped to the set of Universal where it was reconstructed for use in the film.[2] The burning of the Zozobra ("Old Man Gloom") effigy during the Fiestas de Santa Fe sets the time of the events in the film in early September. Part of the movie was filmed at the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe.[3]


Dorothy B. Hughes, famous woman crime writer in the mid-twentieth century, wrote Ride the Pink Horse in 1946. The novel would later become one of her most popular published pieces, alongside the novels In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man among many others. Her works are renowned for their ability to capture the feelings of loneliness and darkness; they also showcase Hughes’ ability to add suspense while maintaining pacing throughout her stories. The novel Ride the Pink Horse was written in the noir fiction style.[4] It had many dark and mysterious characteristics. Hughes’ writing style emanated throughout the novel demonstrated by the sense of urgency and suspense that held steady over the entire course of the story.

The story illustrated the efforts of Sailor confronting Douglass, a wealthy ex-senator, about the murder of the senator's wife. Sailor, growing up under Douglass’ wing, became a henchman of sorts, who often carried out Douglass’ dirty work. Sailor knew that it was the senator that ordered for his wife's murder, and since the death of the senator's wife, Douglass continuously paid of Sailor in order to keep him quiet, but now, Sailor is back for more money. Douglass, who after retiring from the senate, is vacationing in Santa Fe, New Mexico, so Sailor decides to confront him there. Upon his arrival, he finds that there is a fiesta in town and with the all the commotion, Sailor does not have a place to stay overnight. He is also greeted by the head of the homicide bureau in Chicago, McIntyre, who knows a lot about Douglass and his dirty past. Along his adventure, Sailor befriends a few locals, a man named Pancho and a young 14-year-old girl, who help him through his journey.[5][6]

This film adaptation was released a year after the novel's publication, on October 8, 1947, with slight changes to the characters. In the novel, a character named "Sailor" rather than Frank Hugo has managed to obtain a deferment from military service. The film makes many details, including those of the blackmail scheme, less sordid, and adopts different names and occupations for the principal non-Mexican characters. Although Gagin's first name is never mentioned in the film, the opening credits read: Robert Montgomery is Lucky Gagin.

The character Frank Hugo, as portrayed by Fred Clark, has more than a passing resemblance to Zozobra, the god of bad luck, whose effigy is burned as part of the fiesta.

Ride the Pink Horse would become Hughes’ second film, but her first based on her own story.

Other adaptations


According to Variety, the film earned less than $2 million at the box office.[7]

Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, liked the film, especially Robert Montgomery's direction, and wrote:

Mr. Montgomery, as director and star of this story, has contrived to make it look shockingly literal and keep it moving at an unrelenting pace. And he has also managed to lace it with grisly action and rugged sentiment without deceit. Indeed, he has artfully fashioned a fascinating film within the genre. He has done something else exceptional; he has given the other actors a real chance.

Crowther also praised the work of Fred Clark and Wanda Hendrix.[8]




  1. Cobb, Sean Archived September 10, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Film Noir: The Trouble with Genre, University of Arizona, 2005. Last accessed: December 7, 2007.
  2. Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, eds. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, 3rd edition (Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1992), ISBN 0-87951-479-5, 242
  3. Hecht, Esther (January 2005). "The Jewish Traveler: Santa Fe". Hadassah Magazine. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  4. Weinman, Sarah. "On the World's Finest Female Noir Writer, Dorothy B. Hughes". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved February 15, 2019.
  5. "Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes - Mysterious Press". mysteriouspress.com. Retrieved February 15, 2019.
  6. "Lost Classics of Noir: Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes". Criminal Element. July 27, 2013. Retrieved February 15, 2019.
  7. Variety 7 January 1948
  8. Crowther, Bosley (October 9, 1947). "'Ride the Pink Horse,' Mystery Starring Robert Montgomery and Wanda Hendrix, Arrives at Winter Garden". New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
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