Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Ruby Gentry finds director King Vidor spinning his wheels on unworthy material. The great
man behind classics like The Big Parade and The Crowd can't bring much to this
ragged bush-league soap opera. The script comes from a writer responsible for overheated fare
like the Joan Crawford vehicle Possessed; Charlton Heston acquits himself well but
Jennifer Jones plays yet another oversexed hick, as in her deliriously entertaining
Duel in the Sun. After lots of heavy breathing, vile threats and local vendettas
Ruby Gentry settles for an ending that could be titled "Duel in the Swamp." Just about
the only thing that survived this camp-fest was Heinz Roemheld's title song, the one immortalized
by Ray Charles.
Even though she lived in the house of big businessman Jim Gentry (Karl Malden) as
a teenager, Ruby Corey (Jennifer Jones) was born on the wrong side of the tracks. She's excluded
from the social whirl in her Southern town, even though she catches every man's eye. Well-born
Boake Tackman (Charlton Heston) returns from South America to drain a swamp and make his fortune,
and he and Ruby rekindle their fiery romance. But when Boake instead weds a more socially
acceptable debutante, Ruby goes wild, vowing revenge upon her lover and the whole hypocritical
town as well.
Jennifer Jones gave an uncharacteristically modulated performance in Michael Powell and Emeric
Pressburger's Gone to Earth, a terrific movie about a rough country girl who becomes a
hellion. Jones had great gifts as an actress but her roles in many of her American films post-
Duel in the Sun are gross caricatures. Ruby Corey wears tight jeans and teases men mercilessly,
especially Heston's big hunk Boake. She greets him by half-scratching his face off.
All the men who come to the hunting lodge lust after Ruby, even the local doctor who serves as the
film's narrator (Barney Phillips). The plot raises several unsavory angles, but doesn't investigate
them. Boake uses Ruby as a pre-nup sex toy before settling down with a more socially acceptable
bride. After his ailing wife finally dies, wealthy businessman Jim Gentry makes a play for Ruby,
and marries her. As she's been living in his house as sort of a surrogate daughter, it all seems
a little on the sick side.
Jim Gentry takes Ruby to New York where she's transformed overnight from a freckled hick in blue
jeans into a Park Avenue type complete with Paris fashions. More tragedy strikes, and before you
can say Knot's Landing or Dallas Ruby is exacting revenge on the local community,
shuttering factories and foreclosing on mortgages. That includes Boake Tackman's farming project,
which she destroys by letting the sea reclaim the swamp he so carefully drained. Hell hath no
fury and Ruby wants the entire town to suffer for the shabby way she was treated.
All of these developments are represented through montages of unemployed workers, inter-cut with
Ruby pacing the floors in her mansion, savoring her revenge. The forced theatrics are not quite
as exaggerated as Pearl Chavez' antics in Duel in the Sun, but they're also not as entertaining.
The story has kept a bible-spouting brother (James Anderson) on the back burner for eighty minutes,
and trots him out for a tragic finale in an unconvincing swamp set. The laughable coda has an
emotionally neutered Ruby eventually becoming a fishing boat captain, as if the locals would accept
her after wrecking their economy and throwing them all out of work.
Critics point to grand themes in King Vidor's movies, although this show would appear to have been
warped more by the outside influence of David O. Selznick, Jones' lover, producer and manager. The
resoundingly misogynistic story points to a lusty female as the source of all evil. Ruby destroys
the men in her life and tries to do the same to civilization - how many critical references have I
read equating the ocean with Ruby's female rage, inundating the good works of man as represented
by Boake's farm reclaimed from the swamp? It's all thuddingly obvious.
Fans of champion scenery chewing will find plenty of delight amid Heston's strutting and Jennifer
Jones' over-emphatic presence. Most of the rest of the cast simmers in as much sexual envy that
could reach a screen in 1952. The biggest shock is to hear the timeless song Ruby over the
titles and orchestrated as the film's theme. All that's missing is Ray Charles' voice. The tune's
gentle but plaintive melody doesn't have much in common with our feelings toward the tempestuous
MGM's DVD of Ruby Gentry is part of their ABC library deal. The B&W film is in fine shape
and the soundtrack is equally well preserved. There are no extras. The cover illustration makes
it look as though Jennifer Jones is trying to tear the hair from Charlton Heston's chest. That,
or Heston has really dainty little hands!
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Ruby Gentry rates:
Movie: Good --
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 23, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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