A cattle-vs.-sheepman feud loses Connie Dickason her fiance, but gains her his ranch, which she determines to run alone in opposition to Frank Ivey, "boss" of the valley, whom her father Ben wanted her to marry. She hires recovering alcoholic Dave Nash as foreman and a crew of Ivey's enemies. Ivey fights back with violence and destruction, but Dave is determined to counter him legally... a feeling not shared by his associates. Connie's boast that, as a woman, she doesn't need guns proves justified, but plenty of gunplay results.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
From now on, I'm going to make a life of my own. And, being a woman, I won't have to use guns.
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Tough, twisty horse opera that shares more in common with the film noir genre
Feuding landowners have always been a popular subject matter for the old-school B-movie westerns, and on face value Andre De Toth's Ramrod appears to be cut from very familiar material. The presence of co-stars Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake no doubt attracted punters charmed six years earlier by their performances in Preston Sturges' masterpiece Sullivan's Travels, and they would be forgiven if they thought they were in for some light-hearted white hat vs. black hat cowboy fun, with a little bit of romance sprinkled in for good measure. In fact, Ramrod couldn't be further away from Sturges' romp in terms of tone, with De Toth revelling in the cynicism of all but one of its central characters. Based on a story by legendary Western author Luke Short, this is a tough, twisty horse opera that pushes its characters into morally murky territory, sharing more in common with the film noir genre than the tropes of a western.
As the film opens, we are already at the boiling point of a conflict between powerful ranch owner Frank Ivey (Preston Foster) and sheepherder Walt Shipley (Ian MacDonald). Walt wants to bring sheep to the land, a big problem in cattle country. Caught in the middle of the feud is Connie Dickason (Lake), the beautiful and headstrong daughter of rancher Ben (Charles Ruggles). Her father wants Connie to marry Ivey, but she detests his bullying, violent manner and prefers to marry Walt instead. As it turns out, Walt doesn't have the stomach for a fight and flees town, leaving his Circle 66 ranch to Connie. Rather than caving to Ivey's demands for the land, Connie hires the stoic Dave Nash (McCrea) as her 'ramrod', or foreman, who feels indebted to Walt for taking him in when he was at his lowest. Dave accepts, but only on the promise that he is allowed to deal with Ivey peacefully, and without resorting to violence. He hires the free-spirited Bill Schell (Don DeFore) as back-up, but as Ivey and his gang employ increasingly brutal methods and Connie loses patience with Dave's restraint, alliances are forged and broken as the conflict spirals out of control.
Despite the magic they made together working with Sturges, I've never been particularly fond of either McCrea or Lake as actors. They have the screen presence, certainly, but they can both come across as empty shells. They are undoubtedly the weakest aspect of Ramrod, a film that is otherwise riveting from start to finish. The story is complicated enough to hold your interest for the duration, with supporting characters emerging to play a more important role that you were expecting, and revealing hidden layers that provide plenty of twists and turns. Indeed, Ramrod would be pretty pedestrian if Dave's methods proved to be the only way, and as his grip on the situation loosens when the back-stabbing and dirty dealings start to play out, the film heads into pure film noir territory. As the bodies start to pile up and the gun-fire becomes more frequent, De Toth forces his characters down some incredibly dark paths and doesn't wimp out of the difficult corners he backs them into. This is tough and exciting stuff, made all the more interesting by the way De Toth toys with the myth of black against white. The weakness of the leads is countered by some excellent supporting players, in particular Foster and DeFore.
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