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Horace Vendig shows himself to the world as a rich philanthropist. In fact, the history of his rise from his unhappy broken home shows this to be far from the case. After being taken in by richer neighbours he started to exhibit an obsessive and selfish urge to make more and more money, loving and leaving women at will to further this end.Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This may be Edgar G. Ulmer's masterpiece. RUTHLESS is a terrific noir/melodrama - sharply written (by the to-be-blacklisted Alvah Bessie and Gordon Kahn), consistently beautifully photographed (by the underrated Bert Glennon), and truly adventurous in its editing and flash forward-flash backward construction.
Zachary Scott is the "ruthless" title character, but the title is more a cheap shot than anything else; Scott's Vendig is more an emotionally bankrupt, pathological character than a villain per se. The narrative takes pains to reveal - gradually - the series of events from childhood through adulthood which affected his perverse makeup, making for a fascinating character study. Subtle revelations and plot twists come about every fifteen minutes, but they're deliberately ambiguous when they hit the screen, forcing the viewer to pay close attention as the truth of the situation is revealed. This technique alone puts RUTHLESS way ahead of any other Poverty Row melodrama of the period and cements Ulmer's reputation as a thoughtful stylist.
Louis Hayward plays a sort of Greek chorus, an often acquiescent voice of conscience/best friend/nemesis who keeps the episodic story moving along. Diana Lynn (in two roles), Martha Vickers and Lucille Bremer each give terrific performances as the various women who appear, disappear, and reappear in the lives of both men. All are sharply drawn, a testament to the determination of Bessie, Kahn and other blacklisted writers to put strong female characters on screen in defiance of the Production Code, which seemed to encourage either submissive or predatory roles for women.
And as if all that isn't enough, Sidney Greenstreet drops in and sets the screen on fire in every sequence he appears in. A classic coiled spring, his portrayal of a similarly greedy corporate boss is perfectly slimy, and provides a genuine shock when he suddenly grabs Lucille Bremer by the hair and jerks her backwards for a kiss. Likewise, a later sequence where Bremer drags him in front of the mirror so she can brutally compare him to her new, younger lover is unforgettably painful.
RUTHLESS sits comfortably alongside DETOUR, THE MAN FROM PLANET X and THE STRANGE WOMAN, other Ulmer gems of note. A great movie.
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