Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Roman revels

Two more Ruth Roman movies from that busy year for her, 1951 - when she also played the female lead in Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, probably her best remembered film. Ruth, as I have mentioned here before - see label - was a tough gal, who did lots of melodramas and routine actioners (ok, B-movies) in the '50s and into the '60s, having began in the '40s - she is in Bette's BEYOND THE FOREST, and thanks to my IMDb pal Jerry for a mid-'40s serial she is in: JUNGLE QUEEN - I am saving that one for "some snowy night in front of the fire" and I am the lookout for her 1955 take on Shakespeare: JOE MACBETH (with her as the mobster's Lady Macbeth), which I remember seeing as a kid.  Ruth should have been as big a name as those other tough gals like Susan Hayward, or Barbara Stanwyck - Ruth could have played a lot of Stanwyck '50s roles like CLASH BY NIGHT or BLOWING WILD (she is the good girl in that, while Barbara is the bad wife, they have a nice scene together), or even some of Joan Crawford's roles, or Lizabeth Scott's or Jan Sterling's, and of course we love her in 1966's LOVE HAS MANY FACES where she gives Lana  Turner a run for her money in that delirious soap/trash classic. Ruth (1922-1999) ended up in shows like MURDER SHE WROTE and KNOTS LANDING
TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY teams bad boy Steve Cochran with cheap dime-a-dance girl Ruth - looking very glam in a brassy blond wig (like Jane Russell's 'hostess' in wartime Hawaii in Trash Classic THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER, Russell label). 
Here is the blurb:
What kind of future awaits a couple with a past? Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran in a film-noir gem.
A man who spent his formative years in prison for murder is released, and struggles to adjust to the outside world and escape his lurid past. He gets involved with a cheap dancehall girl, and when her protector is accidentally killed, they go on the lam together, getting jobs as farm labourers. 
But some fellow workers get wise to them. Steve Cochran conveys the loneliness of his character, freed for killing his brutal father when he was only 13, and now he's still a tentative, gawky pubescent operating inside a man's hulky frame. Lonesome, he visits a 10-cents-a-dance palace and falls for brassy, grasping Ruth Roman. But the sudden shooting of her police-bigwig boyfriend causes the ill-matched couple to hit the road, ending in a California migrant-worker camp. Directed by one Felix Feist.

This conjures up a world of diners, drab rooming houses, people on the move hitching lifts and riding on trains and cheap motels like the Shady Nook where our couple on the run hole up, before they join that settlement of farm workers and make friends and seem to have a whole new life, leaving their sordid pasts behind them. Ruth even lets her hair go natural to black. But Steve's photo turns up in a magazine and the neighbours have to decide whether to turn him in for the reward .... fate however intervenes, but the ending is uplifing as our newly free couple can start all over again. Though surely a good time girl like Ruth would hardly settle for living in a shack and working in the fields ?
Both Cochran and Roman are ideal, he is in his prime here, as magnetic as Brando's WILD ONE in his tee-shirt and jeans, at least Warners didn't insist he shave his chest, like William Holden had to for PICNIC! - he was also good with Anne Baxter (another dame who could be tough when called for) in CARNIVAL STORY in '54, and of course his best known film, as the lead in Antonioni's IL GRIDO in 1957 (review at Cochran/Antonioni labels), and we reviewed his last film MOZAMBIQUE a while back. (He died aged 48 in 1965 while sailing a yacht in the Pacific, a notorious Hollywood bad boy in the Erroll Flynn tradition...).
LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE is a more routine meller, directed by the great King Vidor (the '56 WAR AND PEACE, RUBY GENTRY, DUEL IN THE SUN, SOLOMON AND SHEBA etc), with British actor Richard Todd, and sterling support from Mercedes McCambridge firing on all cylinders as usual (as in JOHNNY GUITAR!) and that seedy lothario Zachary Scott (in a similar role here to his in MILDRED PIERCE). This time Ruth is the touring actress recuperating in the desert small town and getting to know Todd who is on reprieve from murdering his wife and facing a re-trial. Mercedes is the possessive woman who was on the jury, so it has all the elements for a romantic murder mystery suspense. 
Is the heroine in danger? - though hard to imagine Ruth not being able to fend for herself. It all plays out nicely, but if only it was as over the top as that other meller set in the desert in lurid colours: 1947's DESERT FURY which had Lizabeth Scott and Mary Astor as well as the young Burt Lancaster and that odd couple of John Hodiak and Wendall Corey, as per my review (Astor label).  
I have now seen a 1987 episode of MURDER SHE WROTE (from Series 4) where Ruth guests as Loretta, the owner of the Beauty Salon (think pink!) in Cabot Cove, where the local ladies - including ageless Julie Adams, Kathryn Grant and Gloria De Haven - get their hair done and gossip.
 Ruth is a joy and obviously in her element presiding over the Salon and dispensing gossip to Jessica .... she did 3 episodes of Lansbury's successful series, I shall now have to see her other two guest spots as well, as Ruth wound up her career here in a good way, in a deliciously entertaining tale. 

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