Veronica Lake, as Connie, needs a man, but not only for the usual reasons. She owns the Circle 66 ranch, left to her by a fiancé, Walt, whom Frank Ivey (Preston Foster) ran out of town. She might have gone with, but she is a rather complex character, at times strident, at times soft and sweet. Going against Ivey, the town boss, who maybe does not deserve it, wins her no associates. Even her father will not support her spiritedness. It seems as if all the menfolk like Ivey’s self-importance. But she prevails upon Dave Nash (Joel McCrea), who regularly gets into fisticuffs inside bars, to enable her to stay in town, maintain the ranch, and stand her ground.
Grazing rights and sheep versus cattle farming might seem wholly agricultural in nature, but not in westerns. Here they make for constant friction. The sheriff tries to go by the book, but once Ivey’s men and Connie’s start to slap each other around, there is not much he can do to keep order. Naturally, the strife gets hotter and hotter. It might take a while to learn who everybody is, and then who shot who, according to a code of honor or not, since there are quite a few prominent roles. But all in all, it is a good western, filmed in a very scenic section of Utah. Ultimately, Dave rescues his own reputation, living up to the expectations of a ramrod, or foreman. Unfortunately, for Connie, there is another woman he likes who is not as demanding.
Something about this western appeals to the film buff. IMDB has a few posts worth looking into for those into Hollywood esoterica. Apparently, there was a lot going on behind the scenes in this film that commands the movie fan’s interest. There is simply no way to separate fact from fiction in terms of gossip. But the director, Andre de Toth, known mainly for House of Wax (1953), was married to Ms. Lake at the time — meaning what? And then, there happens to have been the possibility that Francis Farmer had been up for the role of Connie, which inevitably leads into a lamentable sermonette on mental illness. And yet, for some reason, all this Peyton Place stuff gives moviegoers various side issues to gab about, and that in and of itself is of some value. Not just in film, but books and music and painting as well, artists compete against their own works for the attention of the interested.
Not as numerous as those in the heavens, stars nonetheless are sometimes quite fascinating. The camera obviously likes Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea, especially together, and also apart. That is just the way it is. There is an old theory that close-ups had a great deal to do with how stars were made and then kept that way. But while certainly a factor, camerawork does not explain the whole magic. Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels (1941), fyi, was a much bigger claim to fame for the screen pair than Ramrod.