An inexplicably underappreciated Western with serious noir overtones, Ramrod is an engrossing film that serves as a transition from the traditional optimistic Westerns of prior cinema to those examples of the genre that take a darker, grimmer view of life on the frontier. It's true that Ramrod gets a little heavyhanded at times, that the pacing is too deliberate for some and that the surface elements of the tale are quite familiar. But the first criticism is easy to forgive, while the pacing is ultimately integral to Ramrod's success. And if much of the plot has been seen before, it's explored with more depth than is usual, and the very prominent female role is unusual for Westerns of the period. In addition, the grafting on of such noirelements as the femme fatale who wants what she wants at any price, the hero who tries to remain true to his code and a sense of men trying hard to alter a predetermined story they don't quite understand works beautifully here. Andre De Toth's direction is meticulous and precise, and Russell Harlan's cinematography matches it shot for shot. And the cast is a dream, with Veronica Lake turning in an icy, devastating performance that perfectly complements Joel McCrea's noble yet steely one. Charlie Ruggles is quite good in an uncharacteristically serious part, and Preston Foster's villain is quite memorable. Ramrod deserves to be much better known.
by Craig Butler review