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Ramrod (Blu-ray Review)

3 Dec, 2012 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, Preston Foster.

It has been noted that mild-mannered Joel McCrea didn’t cater to co-star Veronica Lake’s sometimes holier-than-thou persona when she was off-camera, though the two were eventually reteamed here in 1947 in a movie not called Sullivan’s Travels when her career was on the wane. Ramrod was directed by the still underrated cult filmmaker Andre de Toth (bravo, Crime Wave) when he and Lake were married in real life — and judging from this movie and 1949’s Slattery’s Hurricane (her last major-studio release before permanent skids-hitting), she responded well to his professional methodology, however manifested.

For an actress whose on-screen somnambulance compatibly matched that of her four-picture co-star Alan Ladd, Lake manages one or two fiery scenes here, even if her role peters out somewhat near the end. Certainly she conveys more heat than featured player Arleen Whelan here, playing a romantic rival for McCrea’s ranch ramrod wannabe once Lake’s character figures out with whom, from a variety of male possibilities, she’d enjoy watching her preferred four-footed creatures graze.

A filmmaker who eventually landed Martin Scorsese to pen the introduction to his autobiography, De Toth doesn’t punch up the melodrama in obvious ways here — though there are definitely some twisted goings-on in this adaptation of a novel by famed Western writer Luke Short, who was then in a lucrative screen era for his literary output, thanks also to Blood on the Moon and Station West, both from 1948. Despite the fact that he’s played by one of the day’s more lovable character actors (Charles Ruggles), Lake’s father steers her affections away from a sheepman (Ian MacDonald) to that of an aspiring cattle magnate (Preston Foster) — until the preferred squeeze begins shaking in his boots over the latter’s high-pressure enforcement tactics. McCrea, a widower, is something of an unusual protagonist here: a reforming alcoholic who also has to recover from a serious bullet wound when he all but passively gets involved in the machinations of almost everyone surrounding him. He’s not even particularly taken with Lake, who does get one or two scenes were her blond locks really flow — despite the fact that she had mostly scrapped the trademark peek-a-boo hairdo that did a lot for me in early adolescence when her Paramount films first got released to TV in the late 1950s. It did a lot for ’40s paying customers as well because the shears (plus some bad comedies) precipitated her career decline.

The first film produced by Enterprise Productions (also of the dually superb Caught and Force of Evil), Ramrod is a typical Olive release in that it looks as no-frills good as its source material will permit. There are occasional specs in the image, but the presentation is generally solid. The cinematography is by Russell Harlan — about a year before he shot Red River and 15 years before he dazzled me as an adolescent by wangling a black-and-white Oscar nomination (To Kill a Mockingbird) and a Technicolor companion (Hatari!) in the same year. Actor buffs will enjoy seeing Lloyd Bridges getting beaten up in an early narrative saloon scene — which, either in reality or just my imagination, seemed to be his lot early in his career. And Don DeFore, usually a comical figure in TV’s “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Hazel,” puts as tad more edge than expected on a subsidiary role as a ne’er-do-well McCrea friend, who precipitates some of the movie’s rampant brutality.

About the Author: Mike Clark

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