Andre De Toth/ USA/ 1947/ 94mins
Available on Blu-ray Mon 5 Mar 2018
In the 1940’s Veronica Lake played winsome femmes fatales in a series of famous noirs – most notably with Alan Ladd as her many-times co-star. Both she and Ladd were delicately featured and played a kind of male/female yin-yang in hard boiled pictures like The Blue Dahlia. Lake was in danger of being stereotyped when her husband De Toth cast her in this psychological Western. Most of the cowboy tropes are here – the rancher, the saloon gold-digger, the bad man, the homesteader. The conflict comes from the different uses of the land required by the sheep rancher (Joel McCrea) and cattle baron (Preston Foster), a distinction that will be lost on modern audiences. Suffice to say Connie (Veronica Lake) has her own ranch and enjoys being her own boss while refusing to be pushed around by the menfolk. She wants it all: the land, the man and fabulous frocks from Edith Head.
The posters said of Lake’s character, “she has the face of an angel and the soul of a scorpion”. But Connie’s orchestrating of a stampede of her own cattle in order to frame the cattlemen backfires and doesn’t get the result she wants.
It’s an intriguing noir-Western but not as good as, say, Yellow Sky (1948). There are some great component parts however: music (Adolph Deutsch), cinematography (Russell Harlan) and supporting players (notably British actor Donald Crisp as the tigh-tlipped sheriff).
De Toth gives what was threatening to become a weary genre a new lease of life, and though the director didn’t reinvent the horse opera this is a stark tale even when the miscasting sometimes gets in the way.
In our digital, multi-platform, hashtag 21st-century the Western with its an unambiguous morality, gender norms and the fantasy hardship of frontier life is in danger of looking more clapped-out than ever, but Ramrod is an interesting watch.