SIGN OF THE RAM, THE (director: John Sturges; screenwriters: from the novel by Margaret Ferguson/Charles Bennett; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Aaron Stell; music: Hans J. Salter; cast: Susan Peters (Leah St. Aubyn), Alexander Knox (Mallory St. Aubyn), Phyllis Thaxter (Sherida Binyon), Ron Randell (Dr. Simon Crowdy), Peggy Ann Garner (Christine St. Aubyn), Dame May Whitty (Clara Brastock), Allene Roberts (Jane St. Aubyn), Ross Ford (Logan St. Aubyn), Diana Douglas (Catherine); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving Cummings Jr.; Columbia Pictures; 1948-UK)
“The static set and the lack of action made “The Sign of the Ram” seem more like a play.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A repressive melodrama devised for the film’s star, Susan Peters, to make her film comeback after a hunting accident in 1944 caused her to lose usage of her legs. This maudlin venture sadly proved to be her final film. John Sturges (“Mystery Street“) directs without much feeling. The static set and the lack of action made “The Sign of the Ram” seem more like a play.
Leah St. Aubyn (Susan Peters) is an invalid who is wheelchair-bound. She was in a boating accident two years after she married Mallory (Alexander Knox) at age 19. The tycoon remarried after his wife died. He resumed living with Leah and his three children from his former marriage in his cherished family house on his seacoast estate. It’s named Bastian for short after the Spaniard who built it a century ago — Sebastian.
In due time, Leah manipulates the unsuspecting family by gaining sympathy because of her physical disability and seemingly noble character, as she acts as if she only cares about them but is slyly motivated by her own selfish interests–she’s afraid of giving up anything that’s hers. The film’s title is taken from her astrological sign, which means — a strong will to persevere, a desire to be looked up to, and someone who will stop at nothing to get her way. She slowly becomes the domineering matriarch of the home, protecting and caring for all three children — the oldest, the law student, Logan (Ford), the 19-year-old Jane (Roberts), and the adolescent Christine (Garner).
Sherida Binyon (Thaxter) is the nice young secretary just hired by Mallory to help Leah. She lives in Bastian, and can’t help but get involved in the troubling family affairs. Christine resents her and suspects her father might be interested in her, even though that’s not so. To add fuel to the fire, there’s the busy-body, Clara Brastock (Dame May Whitty), who drops by often and throws out nasty hints at what might be happening between Sherida and Mallory even though there’s no foundation for such dirt.
Warning: spoiler to follow.
The first chance the viewer sees how evil Leah can be, is when she puts false words into the ears of Jane and breaks up her possible marriage to the amiable family physician, Simon Crowdy (Randell). Then she works on the adopted daughter of the vicar, Catherine (Douglas), who returns from her studies in Paris as an artist and resumes her relationship with Logan. But when the couple announce their sudden marriage plans, Leah makes up a story about insanity running through Catherine’s unknown parentage and how she would have to be childless if she married. Leah nearly succeeds in breaking up that marriage, as Catherine is rescued in her suicide attempt. Leah has also poisoned the mind of Christine so much so, that the young girl tries to kill the innocent secretary by diluting her milk with an overdose of sleeping pills. The film ends as the family discovers how wicked a person Leah’s been and they desert her. She ends her life by committing suicide, as she rides her wheelchair over a cliff.
REVIEWED ON 10/8/2002 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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