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Monday, January 13, 2014

RUTHLESS (1948)

You can’t count on decent budgets to bring out the best from Grade-Z film specialists like Edgar G. Ulmer, best known for his minimalist mini-nihilist masterpiece DETOUR/’45. More often, their peculiar talent for survival only shines against the exigencies of tiny budgets, limited studio space & ridiculously short shooting schedules . . . and Ulmer’s got the drab results to prove it! But not here. By Ulmer standards, this is a lux, lush production with an all-star cast (well, an all-Featured Players cast) and handsome tech support for its stand-up production values. (Lenser Bert Glennon followed this up with two John Ford pics.) The plot & visuals are heavily influenced by CITIZEN KANE/’41*, laying out a sorry backstory of super-rich financier Zachary Scott in two large-arc flashbacks as he tries to justify his life to ex-BFF Louis Hayward and his new gal pal, Diana Lynn, a dead ringer for both men’s lost first love. Scott has since gone thru many a heart & many a financier’s fortune on his climb to the top, milestones in fiduciary depravity & deception personalized by victories over Martha Vickers, Sydney Greenstreet & Lucille Bremer, all in fine turns. Ulmer can’t quite pull off the finale, too pat, too rushed, but the film remains powerhouse stuff. Avoid the many lousy Public Domain issues out there and look for the fine edition out from the good folks @ Olive Films.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Unlike CITIZEN KANE, the acting ‘types’ are reversed here with the Orson Welles-like Louis Hayward playing what is essentially the Joseph Cotten role and Zachary Scott, more of a Joseph Cotten sort, in Kane’s spot.

BTW: if you think you recognize the teen actor who plays Scott as a boy, you probably do. It’s Robert (Bob) Anderson who also played the boy who grows up to be James Stewart in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE/’46. Funny, ‘cause the star he really looks like he’d grow up to be is Montgomery Clift. Ironic since Anderson played the boy scout in the woods who puts Montgomery Clift at the scene of the crime in A PLACE IN THE SUN/’51.

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