Ruthless (1948) starring Zachary Scott, Louis Hayward, Diana Lynn, Lucille Bremer, Martha Vickers, Robert J. Anderson, Arthur Stone, Ann Carter directed by Edgar G. Ulmer Movie Review

Ruthless (1948)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Zachary Scott as Horace Woodruff Vendig in Ruthless (1948)

More Than Citizen Vendig

Looking for information on "Ruthless" I kept on coming across the mention of two things; firstly the frequent use of the term film-noir and secondly comparison to "Citizen Kane". Now to me film-noir has become a rather loose term and depending on your own definition "Ruthless" with its use of flashbacks and female characters may or may not be film-noir, it doesn't fit into my definition of film-noir. And then there is the comparison to "Citizen Kane" with its story of Horace Vendig who through envy and greed uses friends and women to get to the top, but trust me you would be better of comparing "Ruthless" to the later "The Bad and the Beautiful". But the most important thing is that if you enjoy movies about people who ruthlessly climb their way to the top "Ruthless" will entertain.

At a social where Horace Woodruff Vendig (Zachary Scott) is showing his philanthropic side various faces from his past are invited to attend in the hope they see that he is a changed man. You see as a young boy Horace's family were not only poor but he felt unloved it lead to a life of trying to better himself and taking what others have. The trouble is that along the way Horace betrayed friendships and ruthlessly used women to climb the next step, using their contacts and wealth before movie on to the next prospect.

Louis Hayward and Diana Lynn in Ruthless (1948)

So to put things simply "Ruthless" is the story of Horace Woodruff Vendig and how he went from poor and unloved to a wealthy business man with many enemies. Now that may not sound that special but the interesting aspect of this is that Vendig climbed the ladder of power by using women and moving on to the next before finishing with the current one. As such we watch how as a young man he proposes to Martha because his educated friend Vic loved her and then used her and her father's wealth to go to Harvard before then moving on to the next woman whose family could help with better contacts. And we watch as this cycle continues till we get to where the movie starts with Vendig facing some of those who he has betrayed to get to the top.

The thing about all of this is that it could have ended up quite shallow but right from the outset we get depth. In the first flashback scene we see Vendig as a young boy who is friends with Vic and Martha but more importantly we see the genesis of his driving spirit as we witness him feeling unloved by his separated parents and jealous of the family life which Martha has. We then see how even at a young age Vendig feared the man inside, he feared he was ruthless and would hurt people even warning Martha that he was no good yet she trusted him. It makes this story of Vendig's rise and his manipulations mean something because we know that his desire whilst always to climb the next step was also to have what the other person had.

And to be honest "Ruthless" is well acted with Zachary Scott impressing as Vendig increasing the ruthlessness of his character as the movie progresses as we go from watching a jealous young man to a man of power and total callousness. Scott is accompanied by several beautiful supporting actresses especially Diana Lynn who not only plays Martha but a second character called Mallory who is a trigger to show that Vendig can't change. Plus there is that boy again, Robert J. Anderson who plays the young Vendig and does so quite brilliantly getting across the genesis of a bitter and jealous man who becomes determined to get to the top.

What this all boils down to is that "Ruthless" is a very good movie and in fact much better than I was expecting. Comparing it to "Citizen Kane" is a bit unfair because in its own right it is a well made movie about a man's greed to have what others have and to have power.