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Ruby Gentry King Vidor Blu-ray Review

Disc Reviews

Tuesday Blus: Spoils to the Victor in Vidor’s Ruby Gentry (1952)

Tuesday Blus: Spoils to the Victor in Vidor’s Ruby Gentry (1952)

Ruby Gentry King Vidor Blu-ray CoverHad Ruby Gentry been penned several years earlier, it would have most likely been swooped up as a star vehicle for Joan Crawford, especially as this screenplay was penned by Silvia Richards, whose script for 1947’s Possessed gave the larger-than-life star one of her three Academy Award nominations. Instead, this luridly tinged tale of backwoods swamp lust serves as a proto-type for the hysterical class issues later sharpened in the theatrical melodrama of Tennessee Williams’ adaptations, and while too tawdry for 1950s sensibilities, this late period King Vidor doesn’t have the same camp value as the ill-fated Beyond the Forest (1949). And although Jennifer Jones doesn’t quite conjure the vengeful femme fatale from the wrong side of the tracks as willfully as a Davis or a Crawford, she manages to make this gender and class role defying pulp an entertaining soap opera steamy enough to keep watching, if just to see her cut the patriarchy down to size.

Raised as if she were a boy by her backwoods dad, Ruby Corey (Jennifer Jones) can shoot a rifle better than any man, which allows her a certain heightened platform in a small-town community which would otherwise dictate she have to stay on the wrong side of the tracks. However, Ruby’s beauty has captivated the local populous, and her heated affair with local stud Boake Tackman (Charlton Heston) has tongues wagging. But Ruby will never be allowed to right the scandal because Boake’s social standing won’t allow him to marry Ruby—at least, not if he wants to make good on his ambitious plans to be a local landowner. When Boake marries a woman of his own class, the distraught Ruby is then approached by the town’s wealthiest citizen Jim Gentry (Karl Malden), who had taken her in as a young child along with his ailing wife to teach her ways of sociability. When Jim’s wife dies, he asks for Ruby’s hand in marriage, allowing her the first of many opportunities to wreak havoc on the locals who have systematically demeaned her.

What really hobbles Ruby Gentry isn’t so much its hysterical romantic melodrama but rather some crushing omniscient narration from Barney Phillips, playing a peripheral character to Ruby and the townsfolk situation. Richards’ script spells out all of the film’s obvious subtexts, which negates any of the narrative’s viciousness.

If Jones’ isn’t exactly the sultry backwoods beauty, since she never appears to be rough-around-the-edges, (not even in her early sequences as a gun-toting tomboy who seems oblivious to the lascivious leers of all her father’s hunting mates), she does manage a certain manic self-awareness, which is comparable to the kinds of performances later seen in the early adulthood of Elizabeth Taylor. How she’s approached by men, including an alarming love interest played by Charlton Heston (whose advances are so ominous the film implies rape more than sexual satisfaction on the part of Ruby) is where Vidor’s film always feels ceaselessly uncomfortable, with Ruby’s agency forever compromised or defined in her relation to men.

The dramatic catalyst, which concerns the ridiculously named Boake and his refusal to marry a woman of her origins despite his feelings for her, results in the same scenario for Karl Malden as the leaner, meaner, and more vicious Baby Doll (the 1956 Elia Kazan directed, Williams script) when he marries Ruby and allows her the opportunity to ascend to his class. Then, lickety-split, we get the kind of boating accident out of the noir nightmare in Leave Her to Heaven (1945) which allows Jones to morph from sympathetic vixen to full-throttle Gene Tierney avenging angel.

Disc Review:

Ruby Gentry arrives as a plain Jane addition to Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics, presented in 1.33:1. Picture and sound quality are, for the most part, serviceable, especially as regards an often-overbearing score from Elmer Bernstein. The disc does not contain any bonus features.

Film Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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