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.
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 title character.
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: