So back during my 30 Day Challenge, several years ago, I talked about something I had accomplished-my intense thesis paper. The professor had noticed my love of film, and recommended that I choose that for my project and I did. I chose to write about the Civil Rights era and Western film.
I know, it sounds weird, but there were actually a lot of Western films that correlated with the changes occurring due to the Civil Rights Movement. It was different, it was ambitious, it would be a perfect change from anything anyone else had done. And it was all those things , and a lot of work and time.
Afterwards, for another class I decided to stick with the idea-but this time with women in Post WWII Westerns. WWII allowed women more freedoms, as they had to take on previously masculine roles and duties. Westerns became the perfect avenue for this as historically women played a major part in “settling the West,” for example, thousands of women journeyed West under the Homestead Act. I discussed five influential western films that presented strong cowgirl characters and broke away from previous molds: Ramrod (1947), Red River (1948), Montana (1950), Rawhide (1951), and Calamity Jane (1953).
They were all fantastic films, but only two could work for Horrorfest VII: film-noir Ramrod and suspense-thriller Rawhide.
As I reviewed Rawhide a few years ago, I thought I would include Ramrod this year.
In Ramrod, Veronica Lake plays a rancher’s daughter, Connie Dickason, who is trying to fight against the town bully and main villain, Frank Ivey. Her father wants them to marry, but she refuses as she cannot stand the brute. She originally hopes that her fiancé Walt Shipley will stand up to Ivey, but after he takes off (too scared of Ivey), Connie decides to forgo pinning her hopes on a man and tries to take down Ivey’s regime herself. She and her ramrod, or foreman, Dave Nash (Joel McCrea), intend on doing everything by the law, but after Ivey attacks and wounds a friend, Connie takes matters into her own hands.
This is a revolutionary role, as while Connie is depicted in domestic roles, cleaning and cooking, we are shown this is not the extent of her knowledge as she is a strong, smart, woman, who can ride a horse, work with animals, and knows the land. When she first declares her intent to run the cattle farm, the other ranchers state that she is “emotional and excited”, and that there is no way they will let her move her cattle onto “their grass”. To such blatant chauvinism, Connie coolly responds that it isn’t “their land” but open range, therefore open to all and they have no legal way of keeping her from it.
In the beginning of the film, Connie is shown living off her father wealth, everything about her life is not her own; however, after she is deeded the ranch, and decides to run it, she claims the West as her own, proving that she belongs there and has a place in that society. She takes on what was at the time considered a male-dominated concept of striking out on her own and carving a future for herself. At first Connie tries to accomplish her goals through others, but we later see Connie donning the “white hat” and decides to go after Ivey herself.
“Dave: What did you expect him to do?
Connie Dickason: Marry me and stay and fight! Not stick a note under my door and run…wasn’t strong enough was he?
Dave: [Shakes head] No. Connie
Dickason: Well I am. Strong enough to beat both dad and Ivey at their own business. They broke Walt and I’m going to fight back! I’ll make Circle 66 an outfit they’ll respect.”
The only thing I don’t like about this film is that Connie is supposed to be seen as not the main villain, but morally corrupt. Her plans to stampede her own cattle in hopes to frame Ivey and imprison him, go awry, leading to the death of many and causing her to lose her ramrod Nash to the demure dressmaker, Ruth. Even though we aren’t supposed to root for Connie, as she went about things following the concept that the “ends justify the means”, I did. This same type of character was used quite often in male heroes, such in Destry Rides Again (1939) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962). In both of those films the main characters make a decision to not use guns, but rather words when dealing with problems. However, both main characters reach a point where they realize that the only way to handle the situation is on the enemy’s terms, such as Connie does. This makes Connie a cowboy vigilante who is not afraid to break the law in order to achieve justice.
Another concept I feel is extremely interesting about this film-noir western fusion, is that Veronica Lake’s character not only has a lot of similarities with Western heroes, but is also more like the male protagonist in a Film-Noir than our “hero” Nash. Most film-noirs have a male protagonist who is on the hunt for something, trying to solve an issue, or achieve justice; and a lot of times they fall in that morally gray area; breaking the law, using deceit to get answers, fighting or shooting an opponent, etc. They are clearly better than whatever crook, gangster, mobster, or murderer they are facing off against-but at the same time they do things that are not morally right in their pursuit of truth and justice. Nash is very boring and unmemorable; and while he “cares” about justice, he does very little to try and accomplish it. The writer of this may disagree with me, but to me the real hero is Connie.
Another feature of this film that I feel is incredibly well done is Connie’s complete motivation: she wants justice done. I cannot think of another film that allows the female protagonist to stand up against the villain for the simple fact that they want to stop their corruption. Most films a woman has to have her heartbroken by a man, a family member killed, trying to prove themselves to their father, etc.-making it more vengeance rather than justice. From the very beginning when we meet her character her only goal is to stop Frank Ivey.
“Connie Dickason: And there’s something else you might as well hear now. This isn’t just a fight between father and daughter. You’ve pushed Frank Ivey at me ever since I can remember. For years I’ve watched him run things his way–the town, the valley, you and now me. No one’s ever had the nerve to stand up to him, well I have! And I’m warning you dad, don’t get in my way. And that goes for Frank Ivey! NOW GET OUT! GET OUT!”
Yes, she was planning on marrying a man who was “run off” by Ivery, but that was never her motivation to stop Ivey. In fact the film made it clear the only reason why she wanted to marry Shipley was not for any romantic reason, but because she thought he was strong enough to stand up to Ivey. When she loses him she isn’t heartbroken, but even more determined to stop this villain herself. It’s incredibly different from films made then, and now, and is such a great concept. I wish there were more films that used this type of motivation.
In my opinion, it is a great film. Connie is a fantastic character who knows her purpose in the West, a cinematic cowboy (cowgirl), and is a strong, individual character that is a far cry from the previous depictions who’s only purpose was to ride off into the sunset with the hero.
I highly recommend it for any Western or film-noir fan.
For more westerns, go to Will We Survive the Night?: Rawhide (1951)