The wheelchair-bound matriarch of an English family uses her handicap to cynically manipulate all those around her. She coldly destroys a daughter's relationship with a man she truly loves,... See full summary »
The wheelchair-bound matriarch of an English family uses her handicap to cynically manipulate all those around her. She coldly destroys a daughter's relationship with a man she truly loves, and her machinations almost drive the son's fiance to suicide. As the family realizes what she is doing, she becomes even more calculating - and mentally unbalanced. Written by
Charles Bickford brought the Margaret Ferguson novel to Susan Peters' attention, through her agent. She interested retired director Irving Cummings in the property, Cummings formed an independent company with the Orsatti agency to produce the film. Under the deal they arranged with Columbia, Peters received one-third of the profits. See more »
"The Sign of the Ram" (1948) dir. John Sturges is a good example of the odd hybrids that Hollywood was turning out in the late-noir period. The film is not truly a film noir: it has the visual style of dark, shadowy interiors, characters with hidden motives, but the plot belongs more to the realm of domestic melodrama. So this film could be grouped with "Mildred Pierce" and others for its mixture of noirish production values and melodrama.
Another odd and distinguishing thing about "The Sign of the Ram" is the conflict between its setting, Cornwall, England, and it cast. With the exception of Dame May Whitty--as an entertaining, truly mean-minded busybody--there is not an English accent in earshot. People speak lines like "I was born in London" with a consummate American accent. This, along with a pervasive use of painted exteriors gives the film a strong feeling of taking place in some never never land that only resembles the world we know [see "Ivy" (1947) for more of the same] Every 2 minutes or so, the editor has inserted shots of waves violently crashing against the rocky Cornwall coast, on the edge of which is situated the beautiful, gloomy (Ambersonian?) mansion where the entire film takes place, with a couple of sidetrips to a dank seaside mineshaft. Yes, it's gothic, modern gothic, and we don't mind that either.
Most interesting in the cast is Susan Peters as the tormenting and tormented Leah. Condemned to a wheelchair after a freak accident, Leah--the beautiful, talented Peters resembled a combination of Marsha Hunt and Carolyn Jones--must sit by and watch her older husband's grown children (from his previous marriage) find love and fulfillment outside the house, nicknamed "Bastion", where Leah rules with a very velvet glove. The early scenes lead the viewer to think Leah is just an allright sort--taking a kindly interest in everyone and behaving quite charmingly herself (apparently Peters really did play piano quite nicely, it does not look "faked").
Then one day, her afternoon tea crony, Dame May Whitty, plants one seed of suspicion too many with her idle gossip. Soon Leah is taking far too much control of the future plans of her young step children. One nicely nasty little confrontation occurs after another, as Leah wreaks havoc in "Bastion". She also has the useful legs of Knox's youngest daughter--unnaturally devoted to Leah--to aid in her machinations.
The sometimes hysterical musical score is by Hans Salter, who contributed memorably to some of the the Universal Horrors of the 1940s, but those are only a few of the WHOPPING 384 films for which Salter presumably did musical duties.
Well worth seeking this one out.
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