Monday, July 20, 2020
Noirish Melodrama Watch: The Sign of the Ram (1948)
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: John Sturges
A sort of gothic noir, The Sign of the Ram (1948) is a peculiar film. Set in a sprawling English countryside home, a seemingly happy family welcomes a new secretary into the fold (Phyllis Thaxter). She's to be the aid, in particular, to the beautiful, young, wheelchair bound stepmother to the family.
The film is a showcase for actress Susan Peters who had screen success until a hunting accident left her in a wheelchair. She's actually fantastic in the role, which is that of the antagonist. This is, apparently, the screenplay she finally accepted after being asked to play a chipper Pollyanna overcoming adversity in offer after offer. I'll not play armchair psychologist, but it's a hell of a heel turn for Peters to take on - but she nails it, showing tremendous range in the single role (young actors, take note: you can play all sorts of things with an angry character and none of them have to read "angry").
That said, there's something both entirely believable about the tension at the center of the film - a family completely dominated by the iron willed matriarch who plays everyone like puppets without them ever noticing it - and a sense of melodrama that skews a bit too much toward telegraphing where the film is headed.
It's well shot, Peters and Thaxter are great, but I can't say it was exactly my cup of tea. It was clearly made in the shadow of stuff like Rebecca, but never quite hits those notes. But for a solid melodrama, you could do worse.