Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 156: Ramrod (1947)
Director Andre De Toth’s first Western, reportedly proposed by genre master John Ford, is certainly one of his best but it’s also misrepresented by film critics and scholars. As I’ll explore more in my book The Men Who Made Westerns, the characterization of this film as a Noir Western makes little sense. Most likely, this misunderstanding comes from Veronica Lake’s character who they might categorize as a “femme fatale”. I’d argue that she’s simply the bad girl in this narrative and that contrasting two women, one with skewed morals and one who represents innocence, is more common to Westerns than Noir. Also, Lake portrays a far more complicated woman than most of females in Film Noir. She might be manipulative and seductive but she’s also logical and often sincere. It’s a great performance which is completely misread by critics who want to put this film in the wrong box.
Another great performance comes from Joel McCrea. An actor capable of so many things, he shows us yet another side here. His character feels wounded from the start, a recovering addict who walks around like most of his life is missing. His character’s commitment to justice is calm, true, and not righteous. The film is actually full of complex characters from Donald Crisp’s lawman to Don DeFore’s outlaw whose decisions I found to be refreshingly unpredictable.
One sequence I found fascinating was the chase in the dark where De Toth has his characters play like they can’t see each other at night. The problem is that we the audience can see with all the studio lights so the effect is ruined. The director, use repeatedly uses darkness as a tool for suspense, would learn from this and on future Westerns actually turn out the lights for a true dark experience.
I recommend Ramrod to anyone Western fan. It’s incredible.
Watched on archive.org