Torso of what might have been a great picture.
Phil Muse | Stone Mountain, GA | 07/03/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"RUTHLESS (1948) was a product of Eagle-Lion Films, an Anglo-American joint venture that was the child of British magnate J Arthur Rank. Along with THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946) starring Hedy Lamarr, a Hunt Stromberg production that was released by United Artists, it marks the only opportunity filmmaker Edgar G Ulmer ever had to direct a picture with a real budget (He made good on both). The product description above lists a run time of 104 minutes. That is incorrect. What we have in this Terra home video release is the 86 minute version that was trimmed to make the picture more marketable - a sad concession to the realities of a Hollywood distribution system in which Eagle-Lion was an outsider.
With the loss of 18 minutes, problems in continuity abound. In one scene, the youthful Horace Vendig has just been taken in by the kindly Burnside family after he has lost his home. In the very next, Vendig (Zachary Scott) has come of age, started a career in the banking industry, and is contemplating marriage with the Burnsides' daughter Martha (Diana Lynn) whom he later forsakes in the interest of social climbing. Later, when he has an illicit affair with another man's wife (Lucille Bremer), it again comes as a shock when they have a clandestine meeting in a New York speakeasy because there's been no build-up. When he welcomes his childhood friend Vic Lambdin (Louis Hayward) back from South America, we haven't even known he's been away. A great actor (Raymond Burr, as Horace's profligate father) is wasted with only one sceen. Later, when Horace attempts to make a conquest of Mallory Flagg, a young concert pianist (Lynn again, in a dual role), we've had no preparation so it comes as a surprise. And we never hear her play a note of music.
All the vital connections no doubt ended up on the cutting room floor, and, without a major studio to preserve them in its vaults, have probably been lost forever (Eagle-Lion ceased to exist after 1950). So that was that. The print we have here is often murky, barely good enough to give us a glimpse of what must have been first-rate production values. Watching it on home video, I was constantly having to use my remote to adjust volume levels so as not to miss vital lines in a film that has really meaty dialogue.
RUTHLESS is an indictment of the idea of sucess at any price, something that is just as true if not truer today in a society in which achievement has become our unacknowledged national religion. (Some of Horace's stock market manipulations are eerily prophetic of what really happened with ENRON.) The acting is first-rate. In particular, Lucille Bremer's scene in which she breaks up with her devastated husband (Sydney Greenstreet, in his last great screen role) is so starkly real it's painful. And Martha Vickers is convincing as a vindictive woman who has been another of Horace's conquests on his way up the ladder of success. The hand of a top-class filmmaker is evident is the consistent dramatic level of scene after scene.
This is a movie well worth seeing, despite its present state. Is this the only available print? If so, we should be greateful for what has survived, even as we lament what hasn't.
A rough DVD
Antoni Borrell Vilarrasa | 11/13/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"A rough DVD both soundtrack and image. Having in mind that the movie was presented by Eagle Lion, a not very known movie company, the copy used is very worn but we must thank it as otherwise it wouldn't be into the market.
The movie is a regular melodrama, with a remarkable Sidney Greenstreet as a tycoon. Zachary Scott was much better in the Westerns."
Fine movie with a terrible transfer
Timothy A. Wells | Everywhere | 08/18/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)
"This very good film is given shabby treatment by Terra Entertainment. Perhaps the worst transfer of anything I have ever seen, it is watchable only by persons who are either inhumanly patient or so drunk that they no longer care about anything. To charge $15.00 for this worthless piece of plastic is outrageous; it's not worth a plugged nickel."