Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ruby Gentry

I've said of some movies before -- I think the first one I said it about was Violent Saturday -- that they're not very good, but they're a hell of a lot of fun. TCM is kicking off its salute to Star of the Month Karl Malden with just such a movie: Ruby Gentry, at 8:00 PM tonight.

Ruby Gentry is played by Jennifer Jones. But we'll get to her in a few minutes, since this is one of those movies that's told in flashback. The movie starts with an outsider, the northerner Dr. Saul (Barney Phillips) showing up in a small town in the tidal region of North Carolina. The doctor has come to take care of the wife of Jim Gentry (Karl Malden), one of the town's richest and most prominent citizens. As for Ruby, she's not the wife; she's a much younger woman from the wrong side of the tracks who spent some time in high school looking after Mrs. Gentry, and who is now living in the backwoods area with "her type" of people. Ruby, though, is a bit of a wild woman who has her eyes on every man out there, or so it seems.

One such man was Boake (Charlton Heston), a young engineer from the right side of the tracks. He had been in love with Ruby, but because of the social difference, he had to marry somebody from his class. Besides, Boake is a big man with big ideas. His family's ancestral land was flooded by brackish tidal waters decades earlier, and he's studied civil engineering so that he can drain the land and make it fit for agriculture again. He spent a few years doing civil engineering in South America, and has returned home to make his dream cume true.

And then Mrs. Gentry dies. What does this have to do with a bunch of flooded land? Well, it turns out that Mr. Gentry holds the loan on the land, and on a lot of the other stuff in town. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself. In the meantime, Ruby marries Mr. Gentry, which is how she becomes the titular Ruby Gentry. But the rest of the town doesn't like her horning in on classy society. It's a scene really quite reminiscent of Jean Harlow in Red-Headed Woman. When Jim dies in a boating accident, the rest of the town naturally accuses Ruby of murder. But she's inherited all the loans Jim had control over, and that gives her a lot of financial power. And Ruby, not wanting to be a woman scorned, has no qualms about using that power....

Oh boy is Ruby Gentry a melodramatic potboiler. Jennifer Jones isn't my favorite actress, and she's almost insanely manic here. The best that can be said about Charlton Heston is that he was a "sturdy" actor. He's not as good as, say, a Glenn Ford, but at least he's better than a John Lund. Karl Malden is the best thing here, but he dies two-thirds of the way through the movie, leaving us with an over-the-top finale. Then again, perhaps that over-the-top presentation might be the best thing about this movie. It was based on a lurid, popular book of the day, much like Mildred Pierce or The Postman Always Rings Twice, but never hits the highs that either of those two do; where those movies sing, Ruby Gentry screams and wails. But like a good Bette Davis rant, it can be fun to watch wailing.

In the final analysis, Ruby Gentry is about as well-presented as a paragrpah full of bad metaphors such as the preceding paragraph of this post. Fun for one viewing, but if you've seen it already you might be frustrated on watching it again.

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