Monday, July 25, 2011

Life is a Voyage

Let's pretend.

Most of us cannot even think about taking a cruise to Europe, much less around the world. Even the upcoming cruise offered by TCM is out-of-reach for most of us. Still, we can revisit the past glories of the Golden Age of Cruising. And we won't have to worry about rough seas or grazing too long at the endless buffet tables on today's ships.

With apologies to the poetess Miss Wilcox, may I suggest that between now and this December we "go sailing away from here/To the beautiful land of the Past" to visit a brief era when taking your time to get where you were going was not looked at as an inconvenience. Let's pretend you are a cub reporter, dispatched to dockside to get the picture and a few words from the famous who have just docked. Hmmm, let's see who among the celebrated, the notorious and the lucky are shipping out today...Let's christen this voyage with an appropriate poem...

Ruthless (1948)

An old friend of Horace Vendig (Zachary Scott), the financial magnate whose story is told in Ruthless (1948), arrives at a gala party late, explaining to his host that he took a mistaken route when looking for the house of his childhood companion. Miffed that his boyhood chum wasn't there from the beginning as the leonine capitalist announced that he was giving millions to charity, Vendig, played with studied ambiguity by Zachary Scott, asks, "Isn't taking the wrong road one of those mistakes that happens when you want it to, subconsciously?"

This question is examined in an oblique way in Ruthless (1948), avoiding the simplistic Freudian analysis so prevalent in American movies of the period, but nevertheless implying that the past has a way of intruding on the present even when we can't see it there. Exploring the nature of success, Ruthless, which is filled with flashbacks, some expressionistic touches, and a remarkably polished look to the film, can be seen as a critique of capitalism, class consciousness or as a character sketch of American types in the first half of the 20th century. The film gave director Edgar Ulmer (Black Cat, Detour), a chance to make an A picture for Eagle Lion in the late '40s and to explore the duality in his characters while working with some first rate actors, including Zachary Scott, Louis Hayward, Diana Lynn (in a dual role, yet!), Lucille Bremer and Sydney Greenstreet.


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