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With: Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, Donald Crisp, Preston Foster, Arleen Whelan, Charles Ruggles, Lloyd Bridges, Nestor Paiva, Ray Teal
Written by: Jack Moffitt, C. Graham Baker, Cecile Kramer, based on a story by Luke Short
Directed by: André De Toth
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 95
Date: 02/21/1947

Ramrod (1947)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cattle Baroness

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Hungarian-born director Andre de Toth is best known for directing the 3D horror movie House of Wax (1953), even though he wore an eyepatch and could not actually see in three dimensions. The other interesting fact about him is that, despite his uncelebrated career consisting of tough "B" level action movies, mainly Westerns and crime films, he somehow met and married Hollywood bombshell Veronica Lake.

They were married from 1944 to 1952, and made only two films together. The first, Ramrod (1947), has finally made its DVD debut -- as well as a new Blu-ray -- thanks to Olive Films. (We'll still have to wait to see the second, Slattery's Hurricane.)

Looking at Ramrod today, it's easy to believe that their marriage was doomed. De Toth cast his lovely wife as a vicious femme fatale, the heartless, bitter Connie Dickason, whose ranch owner father (Charles Ruggles) is under the control of a powerful cattleman Frank Ivey (Preston Foster). Her father once wanted her to marry Frank, but she rebelled and now owns a sheep ranch. (Sheep ranchers and cattle ranchers apparently do not get along.)

She hires the good-hearted Dave Nash (Joel McCrea) as a ranch hand, and he in turn hires an old friend, the slightly more callous Bill Schell (Don DeFore). Thus begins a bitter, backstabbing battle to take down Frank. Another pretty woman, Rose Leland (Arleen Whelan), enters the picture and it becomes a guessing game as to which guy, Nash or Bill, will end up with which woman, Connie or Rose.

However, Connie's entire purpose is one of corruption and destruction. She's by far the most fascinating thing about this otherwise odd, confusing, and moody Western. De Toth introduces her in a fancy dress with her luxurious hair cascading down in curls, but after that, she's mostly seen crammed into a men's outfit without (could it be?) makeup. She manipulates man after man to get what she wants, and what she wants usually comes at a price for somebody else. (This is how a man casts his wife?)

Though it may not seem so, Ramrod was something of a groundbreaker. It -- along with Raoul Walsh's Pursued, which was released around the same time (and also directed by a man with an eyepatch) -- was one of the few examples of film noir crossed with a Western, which makes for a kind of inactive Western, but a crackerjack film noir. Now open spaces serve the same purpose as shadows.

It's also arguably the first example of the so-called "Freudian" Western, with strong females in aggressive roles, alongside somewhat emasculated men. Later films in this fascinating subgenre included Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious (1952), Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1954), and Samuel Fuller's Forty Guns, but Ramrod came well ahead of the trend.

It's an extremely odd movie on a first viewing, especially when compared with De Toth's more rambunctious Westerns with Randolph Scott, but I suspect that it will be worth revisited and will offer deeper interpretations. Thanks to Olive Films for rescuing it from obscurity.

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