Ramrod (1947)

“If our plan works, you’ll be the foreman — the ramrod of the whole outfit.”

Synopsis:
A headstrong young woman (Veronica Lake) defies the wishes of her father (Charles Ruggles) by ignoring the romantic advances of a powerful local landowner (Preston Foster), instead deciding to run her own ranch with the help of a recovering alcoholic (Joel McCrea) and his friend (Don DeFore).

Genres:

Review:
Hungarian-born director Andre De Toth is perhaps best known as the “one-eyed man who directed a 3-D movie” (The House of Wax with Vincent Price), but he possesses a small cult following for a handful of more obscure titles, including this noir-ish western (based on a story by western writer Luke Short) starring De Toth’s then-wife, Veronica Lake. Given the casting of Lake, viewers won’t be too surprised to find that her character quickly emerges as a femme fatale of sorts — a relentlessly calculating woman willing to use men for her own gain, and apply whatever romantic overtures she feels are necessary for any given cause. Interestingly, little effort is made at first to help contextualize the film’s milieu; we’re plunged immediately into a complex situation we only gradually come to understand. Once the pieces are in place, the narrative turns into a reasonably taut drama of rivalry and revenge, made more interesting given the presence of a strong, independent female as one of the two primary rivals.

Note: Diehard western fans will want to check out an extensive analysis of the film for Senses of Cinema, wherein critic Rick Thompson argues that it’s “a turning-point film — a skillful and moving summary of a long tradition… and a definitive break with that tradition, setting up a new area of possibilities which proceed to change the genre — in the direction of film noir.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Veronica Lake as a most unusual western femme fatale
  • Don DeFore as Bill Schell
  • Good use of Utah locales
  • Russell Harlan’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look, and certainly must-see for anyone seriously interested in the genre. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Ramrod (1947)”

  1. A must – and a find! (This is one of those occasions where I’m thankful for Peary’s guide, leading me to a title I might not have hunted down otherwise.)

    First viewing.

    This is my kind of film! ~ a complex, compact (sometimes strangely racy) screenplay as murky as life itself…where people are complicated (in direct or indirect ways) and you can’t always get a grip on whose allegiance is to whom. Yet another film that it’s best to know little about before seeing it. (It would be difficult to capsulize adequately anyway.) A number of very surprising turns await you.

    I’ve always known De Toth’s name – mostly because of ‘House of Wax’ – but never gave him much thought. Until now. Many of his films are little spoken of, but this is a remarkable piece of work. What caught my attention most is how the director has guided his cast to mostly underplay in an ultra-natural manner. The result is a kind of realism that pays off big time. You really believe this is how average people act and re-act in the given situation.

    DP Russell Harlan (‘Gun Crazy’, ‘Witness for the Prosecution’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, etc.) is to be largely congratulated for his considerable (and, yes, sometimes very noir) contribution. The editing by Sherman Rose is also impressive.

    It’s especially nice to see Lake and McCrea teamed again after ‘Sullivan’s Travels’. Who knew? And who knew they’d play so well together in a polar-opposite way? Both turn in terrific performances, but the entire cast has responded well to very assured direction. (~special mentions going to DeFore and Ruggles.)

    This is a film that would get richer on a second and third viewing. A real sleeper.

    Note: A somewhat dirty title, in a way. There is – or maybe was – a gay bar in NYC by that name.

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